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Related: realism - literary theory
Irrealism is a term that has been used by various writers in the fields of philosophy, literature, and art to denote specific modes of unreality and/or the problems in concretely defining reality. While in philosophy the term specifically refers to a position put forward by the American philosopher Nelson Goodman, in literature and art it refers to a variety of writers and movements. If the term has nonetheless retained a certain consistency in its use across these fields and would-be movements, it perhaps reflects the word’s position in general English usage: though the standard dictionary definition of irreal gives it the same meaning as unreal, irreal is very rarely used in comparison with unreal. Thus, it has generally been used to describe something which, while unreal, is so in a very specific or unusual fashion, usually one emphasizing not just the “not real,” but some form of estrangement from our generally accepted sense of reality.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrealism_%28the_arts%29
What is irrealism?The answer to the question "What is irrealism?" can probably be answered, if not fully, then at least most concisely, by a consideration of the physical laws that underlie the objects and events depicted in the irreal story or piece of art. In a realistic story (and we will be focusing on literature here) we expect all the objects and creatures in the story to manifest themselves in a way consistent with the laws of physics as we currently understand them. Thus, in a story that typifies literary realism such as Ernest Hemingway might have written, we expect all the facets of the story's universe to operate as they do in our own: we certainly would not expect, for example, that Robert Jordan, the protagonist in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, would turn into an insect such as Gregor Samsa did in Franz Kafka's irreal story "The Metamorphosis." Nor, given the extent to which Hemingway works to establish with the reader that his story takes place in a real time and place--e.g., in Spain during the Spanish Civil War--could we ever accept such a transformation in his novel. --G.S. Evans via http://home.sprynet.com/~awhit/what_is_irr.htm [Nov 2006]
Why irrealism and irreal, why not unreal as in Christine Brooke-Rose's A Rhetoric of the Unreal (1981) - Christine Brooke-Rose [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK].
An explanation for the choice of terminology is given a bit further in the essay: ... irreality of the story--which flows from an irresolvable clash between the "real" and the "unreal"--would be lost.
The "irresolvable clash" reminds me of the definition of the grotesque: "the unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and response."
Another quote on the nature of irrealism:
In The Art of Fiction John Gardner uses the term irreal, along with the terms Kafkaesque expressionism and surrealism, to describe types of non-realistic literature. He says that irrealism, in particular, describes the formalist work of writers like Borges and Barthelme. In all of the forms of non-realistic literature, however, Gardner sees a tendency to translate "details of psychological reality into physical reality." Further, he says that the type of reality imitated in these non-realistic forms is that of our dreams. Because the term surrealism is, at least where literature is concerned, associated with concepts introduced by Andre Breton (such as automatic writing) that do not concern us directly, and expressionism is already attached to an artistic movement which is only tangentially related to what concerns us, we have chosen to use the word irreal to describe works of fiction in which physical reality reflects psychological reality in a manner that imitates the reality of a dream. Maybe we need to clarify.
Fantasy, Nature and Reason
A somewhat unrelated quote comes from a paper titled Fantasy, Nature and Reason which deals with the nature of fantasy fiction (as in Tolkien):"Throughout this thesis I use the term “fantasy” to describe the literary genre, and “fantastic” in the common adjectival sense. When I say “fantastic literatures” or “literatures of the fantastic” I therefore mean literatures that employ fantastic tropes and devices, recognised as such generally in relation to mimetic or realistic fiction. When I refer to “the fantastic” in the Todorovian sense (as a narrow theoretical genre that has little to do with what is commonly understood as genre fantasy), I do so in inverted commas." --http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/932/2/02whole.pdf
See also: realism - surrealism
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