Abstract

It is difficult not to sound hyperbolic when describing the significance of this new book by Fredric Jameson, for it promises to reorient the theory of the novel and the practice of the genre's criticism thoroughly. The book has two parts, the first of which introduces and explores the “antinomies” of the volume's title. The second part, which is one-third of the book's length, consists of three “monographs” examining the novel form's narrative possibilities in relation to several of its “raw materials,” specifically, providence, war, and history. The three essays in part 2 may have been written before the dialectical scheme of part 1 was fully conceived, for they do not use its terms. Nevertheless, the book seems one continuous project because the whole expands and renews our formal and historical understandings of novelistic temporality.Temporality is explicitly the central focus of part 1, where Jameson identifies an unresolvable tension at the heart of realism between two impulses: the narrative impulse (equated here with the récit) and a contrary pressure produced by all of those aspects of the novel that postpone the narrative's forward progress, its past-present-future movement, in favor of a dilatory, extended presentness. Jameson often describes the latter as a “perpetual” present and sometimes, in a telling variation, an “existential” present, and he approvingly quotes Alexander Kluge's remark that its tendency is to mount an “insurrection” against serving as a mere stage of transit on the itinerary from past to future (10). Jameson points out several times that every sentence of the récit already contains both poles of the antinomy in the contradiction between the normal past tense of narrated action—the preterite, with its indication of completed past events—and the sense of an extended, unfolding “here and now” (in Käthe Hamburger's formulation). The two temporalities are thus opposed and yet simultaneous.In the book's introduction and its first chapter, Jameson's dyad might sound almost familiar; he points out, for example, its resemblances to Henry James's telling versus showing and Georg Lukács's narrating versus describing. And we may predict several of the novelistic features listed under the two temporalities: the irrevocability of the protagonists' destinies, their namable emotions and definable motivations, development, causation, and the rise and fall of plotted action all belong to the mode of narrative, or telling; and such usual narrative retardants as scene, setting, metaphor, and description in general belong to the pole of presentness. Even at this early stage in the book, it is clear that Jameson's interest is in the dialectical interplay of these impulses, which have so often been juxtaposed qualitatively. James favored showing over telling, Lukács preferred narrating to describing, but Jameson argues that realism not only contains these contrasting and competing features but also “is a consequence of the tension between them,” so resolving the opposition “would destroy it”; and thus, it is important not to “take sides for one or the other” (21).It really is not until the third chapter, on affect, that we can see how far Jameson's theory will depart from his predecessors', and when that departure arrives, the reader has probably already been pondering a terminological shift that was abruptly made in the introduction, where the author simply labeled the realm of his perpetual presentness “affect,” noting that the choice is problematic. Affect is hardly an unfamiliar aesthetic term these days; indeed, a huge critical literature has recently grown up around it. Nevertheless, it is not a word whose chronological nature is immediately apparent, and it takes a while to understand that the term is partly meant to signal the strangeness of the temporal dimension that Jameson uses it to indicate. As we continue through his chapters, we realize that the narrative pole of the novel emits a strong sense of temporal succession and thus of time passing, whereas the pole of affect gives off a weaker temporal signal. As Jameson explains, it might even seem to “detemporalize the present, indeed to construct or reconstruct a new temporal present which we are so oddly tempted to call eternal” (26). Thus Jameson points to the asymmetry of the contrast even while insisting on it. The antinomies of récit and affect equally subsist within novelistic temporality rather than between temporality and atemporality, although the persistence of affect often masks its chronological nature, making it seem like a form of stasis (as opposed to the récit's dynamism), or synchrony (as opposed to the récit's diachrony).By using the label affect, Jameson thus creates an asymmetrical pair: récit retains its primarily temporal quality, but the opposite pole becomes a hybrid present-as-affect, implying temporality plus a “bodily” state. At first this seems to be an awkward analytical move, but to chafe against the asymmetry is to miss its point, for it turns out to be an efficient way of noting the contrast between a kind of time we recognize as such and a kind of time we often call timelessness. “Affect” stresses that this temporally weak pole is supercharged with feelings, moods, and other sensations whose sources and locations are indeterminate; it comes to denote presentness as an awareness of the senses and of physical states that are not confined to particular bodies: “[T]he isolated body begins to know more global waves of generalized sensations, and it is these which, for want of a better word, I will here call affect” (28). Affect in this book is not, to be sure, a matter of mere sensation, and it is never one of individual emotional subjectivity; indeed, Jameson goes to great lengths to distinguish between definable personal emotion and affect. Nevertheless, it names a present in which pervasive, impersonal states and collective physical feelings predominate. It is the physicality of the present-as-affect in realism that tethers it to secular human time and to the “everyday” in Erich Auerbach's sense, Jameson likes to remind us. The contention between the past-present-future arrangement of the récit and this different kind of present-as-affect defines realism, we are shown, and that is why it must remain unresolved.Jameson's valuations of these two impulses may be impartial, but he is nevertheless obliged to give most of his attention to the affective pole, for he must create the existential present-as-affect, with its “impersonal consciousness,” as a comparable phenomenon to that already familiar object of analysis, narrative. To be sure, the book does radically revise our understanding of that pole of realism, too, mainly by shrinking it. This is another fundamental departure from recent novel criticism, which has been energetically expanding and elaborating narrative phenomena primarily. We might think, for example, of all the previous work multiplying the levels of exclusively narrative temporalities: récit versus histoire (Gérard Genette), “sujet” versus fabula (Russian formalists), énoncé versus énonciation (Émile Benveniste), Erzählte Zeit versus Erzählzeit (Günter Müller), énoncé versus discours (Paul Ricoeur). Or we might recall that narratology has claimed many other atemporal topics, such as grammatical person, point of view, the distinction between diegesis and extradiegesis, metalepsis, character systems, actantial functions, and so on. Jameson by no means ignores this work, but by trimming narrative to récit and opposing it to an equally large and important novelistic impulse, he implies that many of these topics need not be thought of exclusively as narrative at all.Indeed, in the seven chapters that trace the expansion of the pole of affect in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many features that might normally seem to belong to the narrative impulse are shown to be in transit toward the opposite side. One of the most telling examples (introduced early in the book but also referred to in later chapters) compares the functions of description in Balzac's novels of the 1830s and 1840s with Flaubert's descriptions in the late 1850s and 1860s. In Balzac, Jameson writes, “everything that looks like a physical sensation … is a sign or allegory of the moral or social status of a given character” (31), whereas Flaubert's descriptions of quotidian environments and the “unnamable sensations” they evoke “have become autonomous”; “they no longer mean anything” about the characters and their destinies. They have become “states of the world, they simply exist” (34). The change symbolizes the birth of affect out of what was previously narrative, and Jameson's revelatory chapters on late nineteenth-century realists return often to this process by which affect emerges out of adjustments in how earlier novelists handled their storytelling.The nineteenth-century novelists treated in the book's central chapters are all seen to be transmuting narrative into affect. Zola's descriptive intensities, irreducible to individual characters' emotions or personal bodily sensations, overwhelm the narrative significance of fictional and historical events alike. Tolstoy's ceaseless movements among plots and focalizing consciousnesses become a ubiquitous sense of distraction; his protagonists are themselves subject to a constant fluctuation of vague moods, which seldom coalesce into definite emotions or distinct narrative motives. Protagonicity, that necessity of the récit, is under assault in the novels of Pérez Galdós, where it involves the replacement of protagonists (especially heroes and villains) with vast character systems; and in George Eliot, affect arises out of the discovery, via the exploration of mauvaise foi, of consciousness grounded neither in characters nor in narrators. Paradoxically, the tide of affect is augmented in the late nineteenth century and carried into the twentieth by the very writer, Henry James, who most assiduously tried to tether narrative to characters' individual points of view. Jameson demonstrates that this effort, with its attendant experiments in free indirect discourse, actually distends the third-person point of view beyond character and narrator, encouraging the reader to “step outside the text altogether” in order to find the remnants of a concluding récit: the vestiges of destiny, irrevocability, and moral judgment. James's particular practice of free indirect discourse was thus the tipping point; après lui, le déluge: “in the floodtide of the everyday,” the earlier functions of the récit “are quickly swamped by the sheer multiplicity of points of view, which clearly do render them relative, in the sense of irrelevant” (184). After James, we learn, serious writers “will keep faith with what alone authentically survives the weakening of all the joints and joists, the bulkheads and loadbearing supports, of narrative as such, of the récit on its point of submersion: namely affect” (ibid.). But this development will become the history of modernism and, consequently, “no longer has any place in this particular story” (ibid.).The brilliant literary analyses of these central chapters—drawing on and enriching the traditions of phenomenological, structuralist, and poststructuralist criticism—thus yield a grande histoire of the rise and fall of realism. Jameson subtly plays with the idea that the history he recounts seems to have borrowed its form from realism itself: its twinned antagonists are locked in struggle until one overwhelms the other; and, after having stressed that realist narratives are forced to draw on melodramatic resources in the end (witness The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda), he drowns the récit in a metaphorical flood. There seems, though, to be more than just a play of homologies at work here, for a certain melancholy affect surrounds this denouement. We are, to be sure, promised a different pair of dialectical antitheses in modernism, but the loss of the mature novelistic narrative impulse is nevertheless presented as a genuine catastrophe, especially because it eventually results in the contemporary novel. Today, we are told, we find only “grim caricatures” of the genre or self-nominated “open” plots, which do late capitalism's work of persuading us that “nothing is irrevocable and everything is possible” (184). The author issues a harsh judgment on these narratives and their reverberations in current postmodern theory: “This is indeed the context in which, in the illimitable standardization and repetition of the everyday, categories of the Event began to emerge, as if to testify to their own absence, their own structural impossibility” (ibid.).One might agree with Jameson's assessments and yet think that they are somewhat out of alignment with the energies of the literary analyses in which the previous chapters so deeply immersed us. Indeed, Jameson had announced in the book's introduction that the larger historical contexts of his own experiment and its objects would go unnarrated, that he would provide instead “a phenomenological and structural model, an experiment which posits a unique historical situation without exploring the content of that situation” (12). This seemed a wise decision, for the most thrilling thing about the book is its exploration of that previously unmapped continent of nonnarrative novelistic features that increasingly cluster around the pole of affect. Moreover, because Jameson thoroughly convinces us that their aesthetic effects became splendidly visible at the moment when they began to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their rival, the shift into the register of regret seems unprepared. To be sure, it was all along inherent in the book's argument that the erosions of the récit were stages in the expiration of realism; therefore the triumph of affect must, in the long term, undermine the generative tension that produced it, ultimately sapping its vitality. Nevertheless, the appreciative story of affect's emergence is simply a more prominent and powerful part of the Antinomies of Realism than the concomitant decline of récit, so the sudden shift into the elegiac (not to mention disparaging) register seems discordant.Melancholy, though, by no means lingers in the final third of the book, where the three chapters—on providential time, novels of war, and the historical novel—open further perspectives on the history of affect. In Middlemarch, for example, it appears as a new kind of “immanent transcendence,” a secular providence equivalent to the structure of the novel itself: “the form of [suprapersonal] interconnections that fan out well beyond the field of vision of the reader of any individual notation … and are yet modified by the most minute adjustments in the ‘lives’ thereby brushing against each other” (227). Such structures of simultaneity have a far grimmer aspect in the war narratives traced in the penultimate chapter from the late seventeenth century to the present, where the “regime of the Scene” imposes severe limits on the possibilities of individual human agency (245). But threaded through these chapters is the assertion that a different narrative ambition emerges from these formations. Out of the pulsating social web of Eliot's novel, the blood-soaked populations and the “blooming, buzzing confusion of scene” in war stories, an “actantial category” comes into view that can be named but not yet represented: the collective, “a manifold of consciousnesses as unimaginable as it is real” (257).The book's last chapter dwells on the possibilities for the representation of such an entity by examining both the history and the prospects of the historical novel today. Most of the book's chapters trace remarkably long arcs of literary-historical development, but this one stands out by the attention it gives to contemporary works and the emphasis it places on imagining a future. The genre of the historical novel provides an excellent window for surveying those elements that gather at the nonnarrative pole of the novel because the form is preoccupied with world making, often of unfamiliar pasts and sometimes, as in novels of historical atrocities like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, of catastrophically defamiliarized ones. In that sense, although the historical novel appears at the beginnings of nineteenth-century realism, it already has a kinship with the contemporary genres of science fiction and the alternate-history novel. Individual characters' destinies are frequently submerged in description, discourse, scene making, and all the techniques of estrangement that become necessary when presenting an everyday world while maintaining its aura of pastness. Moreover, the introduction of nonfictional characters, with their already-known destinies, carries a host of other narrative dilemmas, as Jameson so richly demonstrates in his analysis of the problems surrounding the representation of world-historical figures.In short, the last chapter shows us another version of the enlargement of “affect” without specifically using that term, and its implications for the depiction of the collective become most prominent here, where such entities as the “people” and the “nation” seem to fluctuate between actantial narrative functions and affective ones. Thus the form becomes one in which the old realist tension might still exist. The character function in any authentically historical novel today, though, must be multiple and extend over generations, “For historicity today … demands a temporal span far exceeding the biological limits of the individual human organism: so that the life of a single character—world-historical or not—can scarcely accommodate it nor even the meager variety of our own chronological experiences of a limited national time and place” (301).Jameson's example of such a truly historical contemporary novel is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, because it dares to envision a range of futures as well as pasts for the planet. Even if one disagrees with this specific assessment, it serves to remind us of the hopeful side of Jameson's thought, its will to get beyond his disgust with late capitalism. Thus the book ends with a paean to the multitudinous impulses alive in the “moment of the aesthetic” (313). One does not have to believe it, for the genius of the book is in its dialectical dynamism and analyses rather than its global conclusions. And yet one recognizes that some such motivating faith must undergird the sheer inventive exuberance we encounter here.

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