Over the past two decades a growing number of scholars has resisted attitudes and methods associated with critique in favor of an array of “postcritical” reading methods indebted to phenomenological thought. Methods like “reparative reading” (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick), “object-oriented criticism” (Graham Harman), and “reflective reading” (Rita Felski) all seek to mediate affective attachment to objects of concern with analytic reflection on their features. This essay describes a tradition of novels it calls “expressive realism,” whose specialized depictions of character make the genre especially suitable for cultivating a phenomenological ethos of reflective attachment in readers. On the one hand, expressive realist novels invite readers to perceive the first-person evaluations that give objects significance for particular characters, promoting affective attitudes that are invested in rather than detached from objects of concern. On the other hand, such novels also promote critical reflection on these objects. By showing how characters’ value-laden commitments are articulated in concepts, enacted in concrete situations, and juxtaposed alongside opposing commitments, expressive realist novels mediate readers’ affective attachments to characters’ commitments through techniques that facilitate critical analysis. By describing a novelistic tradition that uses techniques of characterization to mediate feeling and reflection, this essay outlines a canon of texts suitable for an era of postcritical literary studies.
Expressive Realism and the Phenomenological Turn: A Canon for Postcritical Literary Studies
Matthew Flaherty is English instructor at Bard High School Early College in Baltimore, Maryland. He is currently at work on a book, Many-sided Lives: Liberal Judgment and the Realist Novel, which argues that Victorian novelists used secondary characters to help readers appreciate the merits of conflicting opinions.
Matthew Flaherty; Expressive Realism and the Phenomenological Turn: A Canon for Postcritical Literary Studies. Poetics Today 1 March 2019; 40 (1): 135–158. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7259929
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