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In his recent book The Antinomies of Realism, Frederic Jameson emphasizes that the history of realism is often observed as a history of its opposition: realism vs. romance, realism vs. naturalism, realism vs. socialist realism, etc... Jameson writes: “Most of those binary pairs will therefore arouse a passionate taking of sides, in which realism is either denounced or elevated to the status of an ideal (aesthetic or otherwise). The definition of realism by way of such opposition can also take on a historical, or periodizing, character. Indeed, the opposition between realism and modernism already implies a historical narrative which it is fairly difficult to reduce to a structural or structuralist one...”

The contradictions of realism intrigued generations of writers, artists and theorists in nineteenth and twentieth century. Debates on realism were formative, as the famous dispute between Georg Lukács and Bertolt Brecht in the end of the nineteen-thirties. Lukács criticized Brecht’s ‘modernist’ methods and favored the formally realist representation with the characters’ lives embedded into and shaped by the contradictions of the historical ‘totality’. Brecht’s notion of realism was different. He insisted in the same line with Marx that “art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it” and saw the audience as potential actors of change.

Anyhow, this is a historical debate, and it is not our aim to deepen this – in our eyes – false opposition between ‘modernism’ and ‘realism’. There is the necessity of a debate on the notion and potentialities of realism today and this discussion is organically linked to the production conditions of art and to ‘real’ political involvement of art and cultural workers. To put it in the words of David Riff, “Realism is no longer a choice, but an increasing inevitability.”

For Reclaiming Realism we bring together five positions that reflect on links and contradictions of realism and Avant-garde, on partisanship, representation and participation, but also on organization and political interventions of art workers on a practical level. The opener is Goran Pavlić’s text Krleža’s (Re)turn to Realism. It portrays one of the most prominent figures of the “Dispute on the Literary Left” in Yugoslavia, Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža. Pavlić studies the moment in Krleža’s development as a literary and political writer, when he turns towards a new concreteness, dedicating himself to “qualitative” dramaturgy. Pavlić shows how Krleža in his essay ‘Europe Today’ detects knowledge production in capitalism as a crucial example of the originary contradiction and concludes that Krleža here anticipated not only the problem of structural nontransparency of capitalism as a system, but also the particular status of knowledge in capitalist social relations.

Notes on the Avant-garde is a text by David Riff that was published seven years ago - far back in 2007 – as an online supplement of the Chto Delat Newspaper’s issue Debates on the Avant-garde. Nonetheless, many thoughts are still very relevant for our discussion, even if, as Riff commented, he today has a different view on some issues (and the text would be more “pro-Lifshitz”). Interesting for us here are his reflections on the avant-garde character of nineteenth century realism and on a transhistorical framing of realism. The reason for publishing this text is first and foremost its quality of bridging theoretical historical discussions and practice-related considerations about today’s inevitability of realism.

Taking a critical stance on Rancičre’s ideas of anti-autoritarianism and equal participation Danilo Prnjat discusses problems of representation and participation in Politics of Representation: Performing the People and Avant-garde Practices . With Hall Foster he argues against the delegitimization of the critical (avant-garde) position in postmodernism and calls for a redefinition of the relationship towards representation that subverts the deadlock of formalism and reflects the material conditions of production.

The conversation with Vesna Vuković about partisanship in art is inspired by an article on realism, modernism and photography, John Roberts proposed as his contribution to this volume. However, the unresolved copyright issue induced us not reproduce it within this issue. Vesna Vuković starts from considerations about the historical position of socially engaged art as field for propaganda work by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and then critically discusses the contemporary condition, when art takes on political agendas without any framework of real political forces that could implement them.

With the text Realism Revisited: ArtLeaking in the Age of Art Incorporated by Corina L. Apostol we arrive at questions of artistic production and practical political work. She takes Courbet’s political involvement in the Commune as example for the transgression from realism in art into concrete political practice. Understanding the artist with Gramsci as ‘organic intellectual’, she stresses the urgency of political organization of art workers and demonstrates strategies of various artists’ groups and organizations, such as ArtLeaks or W.A.G.E.

Supported by:

ERSTE Foundation
MA 7 - Interkulturelle und Internationale Aktivitäten
Stadt Wien - Kulturabteilung MA 7

Collaboration with:

Istanbul Bilgi University

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