The term “identification” denotes both a social procedure (the act of recognition by which a person is acknowledged, formally or informally, to be a specific individual) and a genre of text (the marks, signs, or documents, such as signets, signatures, passports, ID cards, and birth certificates, which formally record and enable that procedure). Like many forms of literary narrative, the genres of identification are explicitly concerned with questions of the stability—or mutability—of the self. Who is this person? Do people change? If so, what, if anything, remains constant: how can we be confident that this is “the same” person? How much control do individuals have over the recording and representation of their personal characteristics? And how do those objective records relate, or fail to relate, to lived experiences of unique subjectivity? One distinction to be drawn between literary narrative and identification is the different value each has tended to give to temporality. Put simply, an identificatory technique is deemed to be the more effective the more capable it is of excluding from the process of identification those personal characteristics that might alter over time. Fingerprints and DNA, for instance, are among the most valuable identificatory tools because they remain constant from before birth until after death. Photographs, meanwhile, possess some identificatory value, but many factors can cause rapid and drastic changes in an individual’s physical appearance: this is one reason passports and similar documents include expiration dates and must be renewed. Narratives, on the other hand, are by definition temporal structures. They tell us that certain things happened or failed to happen. They frequently register and explore change and transition, and even narratives concerned with stasis and changelessness are obliged to acknowledge and account for the passage of time. In this sense, identification and narrative would seem to be at odds with one another. Identification exists to formalize the attribution of identity by rendering narrative irrelevant: the border guard who demands a valid passport will not accept an autobiography in its place. Yet several features of identification complicate this apparent antagonism. Firstly, identification documents function not only to record identities, but actively to constitute both individual identities and the broader concept of identity in a given society. They become not just records which diminish the significance of narrative, but constituent parts of the way individuals understand their place in society and by extension their own experience. Identification becomes part of the stories that individuals tell themselves, and tell about themselves. Secondly, because officially ratified forms of identification have a unique probative force, they themselves have become powerful tools in the production of stories and selves. The criminal who wishes to manufacture or steal a new identity must become adept in the deployment of official documents as a way of authenticating a fictitious claim to recognition. Finally—as countless scenes of identification trouble in fictional works suggest—the moment at which citizens are obliged to identify themselves by recourse to the data contained in identity documents frequently generates a reaction in the form of a heightened sense of individuality. The modern citizen is never more conscious of the complexity of their own story than at the moment when they hand over the misleading simplification, printed on passport or ID card, which constitutes their “identity.” Over the 20th century in particular, as modern systems of identity management became ever more technologically complex and bureaucratically stringent, literary works found new ways to describe and explain the effects of such systems on individuals and on the societies they inhabit.
“Sentiment” is a term that signifies differently in its different English forms (sentiments, sentimental, sentimentality, sentimentalism), and these forms themselves signify differently at different times and in different languages. In French, whence it derives, the verb sentir means “to feel” or “to sense,” and a relatively clear distinction can be made in that language between sentir and penser (“to think”), and likewise between un sentiment and une pensée. In English, however, especially in the 18th century when the notion of the sentiment became central to empiricist moral philosophy, the term tends to straddle thought and feeling. In the accelerated development of the concept in the work of David Hume and his friend Adam Smith, sentiment might best be understood as feeling reflected in thought, which later figured centrally in William Wordsworth’s account of the poetic process. Even before Wordsworth, Laurence Sterne had deployed the recently coined English adjective sentimental, and he exploited this new understanding to develop a new and massively influential mode of ambivalence in fiction. Such an understanding also helped to underwrite the fully elaborated 1795 theoretical intervention of the Anglophile German writer Friedrich Schiller, who had to invent the German adjective sentimentalisch from the Anglo-French term. Schiller distinguished the sentimental mode in poetry from the naive on the dual grounds, already established in British writings on the subject, that the sentimental involved “mixed feelings” born of an act of “reflection.” Even as this more technical understanding of the sentimental mode was being developed, however, critique of “sentimentality” in a strictly pejorative sense was underway. In modernist literary theory, certainly, much energy is mobilized around this critique, as is clear from a foundational work in the institution of “practical criticism” by I. A. Richards at Cambridge, who produced a full taxonomy of the forms of sentimentality, a deviant kind of emotional responsiveness he opposed to another, which he called “inhibition.” The modernist intolerance of what it called “sentimentality” would be taken up as part of a broader and more programmatic critique of commercialized culture under capitalism in later work by Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno and by Jean Baudrillard.
Character is a property of narrative and discursive textuality, even as it is also a moral and ethical category referring to individual and collective norms of behavior and motive. This double valence has affected the concept since Aristotle and Plato first began the unfinished, centuries-long project of literary theory. On the one hand, stemming from Aristotle, there has been a tradition of formalist conceptions of character, understanding it as a device used by writers to drive narrative momentum and effect transformations within the discourse. The domain of action, and its variously entailed reactions and consequences, was thought to belong to the agents of narrative discourse by rights, while what was generally called their “character” typically concerned the incidental qualifications and explanations of their actions in speech and thought. Once that distinction is made, however, there are smaller and smaller units into which agency can logically be subdivided, and more and more arbitrary and capricious qualities of character used to flesh out an abstract narratological principle. The histories of formalism, structuralism, and poststructuralism attest to this labor of specialization and fissiparous subdivision of the bound concepts of agent and character. On the other hand, stemming from Plato, we see a centuries-long interest in the mutually interactive relations between imaginary persons, or fictional selves, and the fashioning of public or social selves in regimes of education and discipline. The question of the role of literary characters in the formation of good citizens, or indeed delinquent ones, is one that refuses to go away, since it has proven impossible to separate fiction from reality in the complex processes of self-fashioning through which every subject must go. One last matter of interest has exerted more theoretical influence over the concept in recent years, and that is the topic of affects: the qualities and intensities of human feelings can be seen to have had a major bearing on the writing and elaboration of fictional beings, and vice versa, at least since the late 19th century.
The concepts of spectacle and détournement are closely associated with the Paris-based postwar avant-garde movement known as the Situationist International. Spectacle is meant to work as a concept that critiques not this or that aspect of media culture, but its totality. It reveals the spectacle as the double, in the world of consumption, of capitalist commodity production. Détournement is the practice which opposes spectacle by refusing all forms of private property in the production of cultural works. While the Situationist International expired as a movement in 1972, these concepts were subsequently taken up by others, although most often shorn of the revolutionary impulse their linkage was meant to forge. This is why it is important to stress the origins of these concepts in both Western Marxism and also in the radical avant-garde movements of the prewar period. Guy Debord, a central animating presence in the Situationist International, was drawing on militant Marxist thinkers such as Georg Lukács and Henri Lefebvre, as well as the lesser-known Belgian branch of the Surrealist avant-garde. Understood as keys to a unified critical theory and practice, spectacle and détournement can be retrieved from merely descriptive studies of literature and media, and also from more narrowly formalist avant-garde literary practices.
The term “medium” has a long and complicated history. In its most general sense, it originally meant an intermediate agency, instrument, or substance. During the 19th century, it acquired two further common meanings, first as the raw material or mode of expression distinguishing a particular artistic practice, and then, in the sense now prevalent, as a channel of mass communication. For much of its history, literature’s primary medium (or “channel”) has been the printed book, which remains an object of theoretical as well as historical enquiry, often in a comparative context. Since around 1850, the proliferation of technical media—from telegraph and telephone through film, radio, and television to the internet and the mobile phone—has piled comparative context upon comparative context for the study of literature to take into account. From its origins in the 1920s, media theory has tended to reverse engineer an understanding of what a “medium” is and does from its description and analysis of specific material technologies in operation. Its original focus, with film, radio, and television in mind, was on the medium as technical and ideological instrument. However, as material technologies have become ever widespread, sophisticated, and diverse, so their function has begun to resemble that of an intervening agency or substance, rather than that of an instrument.
Modernism stands as the signal literary upheaval of the long 20th century, and yet the tenuousness of its appeal to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound commanded, entails the period or periods that follow are likewise uncertain save in their reference to modernism. However, even here there is ambivalence: contemporary authors might be charted regarding their modernist literary forebears, yet many explicitly reject modernist methods altogether; others continue this legacy, and still more look to complexly incorporate and negotiate modernist methods. Likewise, theoretical accounts of postwar fiction mark what comes after in reference to modernism: postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and the like. Modernism’s outsize shadow stems from its association with literary experimentation, aesthetic innovations elevating its austere emphasis on form above such traditional concerns as telling stories and creating characters. Though swaths of Anglophone fiction reject these modernist impulses and return to realist narratives, contemporary fiction must also be viewed as occurring within an era in which modernism has become institutionalized in university reading lists and the practices of their creative writing programs. Fiction after modernism thus might be best viewed as encompassing competing impulses, often within the same text or author: to revert to traditional modes of storytelling and thereby reject modernism; to borrow aspects of modernist technique but develop them so form might convey not only a sense of interior experience or textuality but also situate characters and texts socially (and globally); and to return afresh to those literary experiments, investing them with new relevance. These divided relations between contemporary fiction and aesthetic modernism underscore a complex and conflicted temporality operative within the very conceptions of both modernism and the contemporary.
Realism is a historical phenomenon that is not of the past. Its recurrent rises and falls only attest to its persistence as a measure of representational authority. Even as literary history has produced different moments of “realism wars,” over the politics of realist versus antirealist aesthetics, the demand to represent an often strange and changing reality—however contested a term that may be—guarantees realism’s ongoing critical future. Undoubtedly, realism has held a privileged position in the history of Western literary representation. Its fortunes are closely linked to the development of capitalist modernity, the rise of the novel, the emergence of the bourgeoisie, and the expansion of middle-class readerships with the literacy and leisure to read—and with an interest in reading about themselves as subjects. While many genealogies of realism are closely tied to the history of the rise of the novel—with Don Quixote as a point of departure—it is from its later, 19th-century forms that critical assumptions have emerged about its capacities and limitations. The 19th-century novel—whether its European or slightly later American version—is taken as the apex of the form and is tied to the rise of industrial capitalism, burgeoning ideas of social class, and expansion of empire. Although many of the realist writers of the 19th century were self-reflexive about the form, and often articulated theories of realism as distinct from romance and sentimental fiction, it was not until the mid-20th century, following the canonization of modernism in English departments, that a full-fledged critical analysis of realism as a form or mode would take shape. Our fullest articulations of realism therefore owe a great deal to its negative comparison to later forms—or, conversely, to the effort to resuscitate realism’s reputation against perceived critical oversimplifications. In consequence, there is no single definition of realism—nor even agreement on whether it is a mode, form, or genre—but an extraordinarily heterogenous set of ways of approaching it as a problem of representation. Standard early genealogies of realism are to be found in historical accounts such as Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel and György Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and The Historical Novel, with a guide to important critiques and modifications to be found in Michael McKeon’s Theory of the Novel. This article does not retrace those critical histories. Nor does it presume to address the full range of realisms in the modern arts, including painting, photography, film, and video and digital arts. It focuses on the changing status of realism in the literary landscape, uses the fault lines of contemporary critical debates about realism to refer back to some of the recurrent terms of realism/antirealism debates, and concludes with a consideration of the “return” to realism in the 21st century.
Ekphrasis is a Greek term whose etymological meaning is “to speak out” or “to show in full.” Debates on ekphrasis go back to classical antiquity and Homer’s lines on Hephaestos making Achilles’ shield in Book 18 of the epic The Iliad (8th century bce). Ekphrasis was considered a mode of speaking capable of bringing absent things before the listener’s inner eye by aiming at enargeia, a vivid quality of language producing evidentia (evidence) and rousing emotions through lively, precise, and detailed verbal descriptions. Over the centuries, the term underwent a considerable narrowing-down of its original meaning and eventually, during the Second Sophistic, came to designate the description of works of art. However, ancient ekphrasis, in the broader sense of detailed and lively description, had a rich afterlife throughout the Middle Ages (e.g., in Geoffrey Chaucer), the Renaissance (e.g., in Shakespeare), Neoclassicism (in Joseph Addison’s essays and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Laocoön”), and even into the Romantic Age (e.g., in William Wordsworth and George Gordon Byron). In its narrower sense as verbal representation/evocation of or response to a work of art or visual object, it is a ubiquitous phenomenon in 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century literature, be it poetry or narrative fiction. Many modernist, postmodernist, and post-postmodernist literary texts are replete with ekphrases, but these ekphrases very often question any mimetic or illusionist aesthetic and no longer exclusively follow the paragonal model: instead of competing with one another, ekphrastic word-image configurations are more adequately described as intermedial constellations and collaborations. As a pertinent feature of 20th- and 21st-century poetry and narrative fiction—examples are novels by Julian Barnes, Antonia Susan Byatt, Teju Cole, Siri Hustvedt, or Donna Tartt—ekphrasis has also attracted the attention of literary scholars and theoreticians of culture. Due to the many attempts to conceptualize and theorize ekphrasis, any attempt to give a simple definition will not suffice. In the 1980s and 1990s scholars such as Murray Krieger, William John Thomas Mitchell, and James Heffernan theorized ekphrasis: while Krieger saw ekphrasis as a symptom of the semiotic desire for the natural sign and Mitchell discussed ekphrasis within a paragonal framework of socio-cultural power relations, Heffernan defined ekphrasis as the verbal representation of visual representation. Included among the seminal concepts and definitions of ekphrasis in the early 21st century are approaches from phenomenology and cognitive poetics or new reception aesthetics, the digital humanities, postcolonial and transcultural studies, and the environmental humanities. By going beyond questions of representation that have dominated ekphrastic criticism for a long time, functions of ekphrasis, in particular socio-cultural and ethical functions, have gained new attention.
The presence (or absence) of compositional precursors and leftovers raise for critics and editors methodological, epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic questions: What gets collected and preserved? What does not—for what reasons? How can these materials be interpreted? And to what ends? A draft may refer to written materials that never attain printed form as well as early manuscript compositions and fair copies, typescripts, digital text, scribbles, doodles, leftovers, or other marginalia and extraneous materials that may or may not find their way into archives. The manuscript draft came of age following the invention of printing, although unfinished or working drafts only began to be self-consciously collected with the emergence of the state archive in the late 18th century. The draft is, therefore, intimately connected to the archival, whether the archive is taken as a material site, a discursive structure, or a depository of feeling. Any interpretation of drafts must take into account the limits and limitations of matter including the bare fact of a draft’s material existence or its absence. In the 20th and 21st centuries, there have evolved a diverse network of theoretical approaches to interpreting drafts and compositional materials. Scholars of drafts may ask questions about authorship, materiality, production, technology and media, pedagogy, social norms and conventions, ownership and capital, preservation or destruction, even ethics and ontology. However, these investigations have been most pronounced within four fields: (a) media theory, histories of the book, and historical materialisms that investigate the substance, matter, and means of production of drafts as well as the technological, pedagogical, and social norms that mediate writing, and the cultural/historical specifics of these materials and media; (b) textual editing, which establishes methods that regularize (or complicate) how scholarly editions are produced and related mid-20th century New Bibliography approaches, which illuminated some of the limitations of manuscript-and-edition blind close reading, especially by the New Critics; (c) French genetic criticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which engages with French post-structuralism and psychoanalysis to look at writing as a dynamic and developmental process that has both conscious and unconscious components; and (d) legal scholarship and debates concerning rights to ownership and possession of manuscripts and drafts and their publication, which developed between the 17th and 21st century. These discussions, and their elaboration within national and international legislation, resulted in the invention of copyright, moral rights, and changed understanding of legal rights to privacy and property as well as a division between material and intellectual property, the use and destruction of that property, and the delineation of rights of the dead or the dead’s descendants. The draft manuscript came to be endowed with multiple bodies, both fictive and actual, for which individuals, institutions, corporations, and even nations or the world at large, were granted partial ownership or responsibility. From the late 19th century, the catastrophic legacy of modern warfare and its technologies, including censorship, as well as movements in historical preservation, cultural heritage, and ethics have affected policies regarding ownership and the conservancy of drafts. The emergence of digital and on-line textual production/dissemination/preservation in the late 20th and 21st centuries have broadly transformed the ways that drafts may be attended to and even thought. Drafts must finally be seen to have a complex and intimate relationship to the authorial body and to embodiment, materiality, subjectivity, and writing more generally. Drafts—particularly unread, missing, or destroyed drafts—lie at the border between the dead object and living text. As such, the purposeful destruction of drafts and manuscripts initiates an ontological and ethical crisis that raises questions about the relationship between writing and being, process and product, body and thing.