Literary Realism and the Ekphrastic Tradition

By (author) Mack Smith

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 April 1995

Length of book:

280 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271028194

Literary Realism and the Ekphrastic Tradition examines representative texts and the theories of realism upon which they are based. It studies the foundations of these theories in the philosophies of language contemporaneous with them. Beginning with Adamicism, Mack Smith looks at the way humanist, rationalist, empiricist, Kantian, positivist, and poststructuralist theories of language are textually dramatized. He considers the cultural and personal influences that affect historical notions of realism and reality. He also demonstrates the rhetorical basis of realism by considering a mimetic device used by novelists in rendering a faithful version of reality—ekphrasis, the narrative description of a work of art. Smith seeks a middle ground between the extremes of theory and interpretation, discourse and reality, and textualism and history, thus making an important contribution to the revaluation of literary studies.

“Drawing on a broad range of contemporary theory—Russian formalism, Riffaterre, and deconstruction in particular—Smith proposes a conception of realism that assimilates and transforms what others have said on the subject. In the end he plumbs for a coherence theory of realism, in accord with Lotman’s precept that ‘facts’ emerge at the intersection of two semiotic systems. Those uncomfortable with this conclusion can supplement it with the theories of fictional reference provided by Thomas Pavel and Marie-Laure Ryan. Readers interested in the novels that he treats—Don Quixote, Emma, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, and Gravity’s Rainbow—will find Smith’s discussion of them perceptive, informed, theoretically sophisticated, and unforbiddingly readable.”

—Wallace Martin, University of Toledo