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This article is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

Not Saussure Raymond Tallis

Over the last twenty years or so, the realistic novel has been derided by literary critics influenced by structuralist and post-structuralist writers. Their criticisms have not been adequately answered because the underlying theoretical arguments have not been examined with sufficient care. There has consequently been a tendency to assume that there is a powerful case against realism which must be accepted or uneasily ignored.

Of course, realistic novels continue to be written and read. But this evidence of life is illusory. According to Robert Scholes, those who still write in the realistic tradition are like 'headless chickens unaware of the decapitating axe' (The Fabulators, 1974, p. 21). Michael Boyd asserts that, although 'hacks will no doubt continue to write soporific illusions just as some readers will continue to require such products for their easy consumption . . . the modern novel defines itself in terms of its rejection of the conventions of formal realism' (The Reflexive Novel: Fiction as Critique, 1983, p. 19).

The acknowledged fathers of the contemporary literary novel - Beckett, Pynchon, Raymond Roussel, John Barth, Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Donald Barthelme, to name a few chosen at random - are committed to the creation of dream-worlds, anti-worlds, word-worlds and non-worlds, as are many lesser figures of equally serious purpose. The house of fiction is over-run by fabulists, by writers with their hands deep in what Philip Larkin once scornfully referred to as the myth-kitty. Science fiction is becoming mainstream. Doris Lessing, who ...

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