Realism Owns You
Realism, seen broadly, cannot be a genre; instead, it makes other forms of fiction seem like subgenres. For realism teaches everyone else; it schools its own truants: it is what allows magical realism, hysterical realism, fantasy, science fiction, even thrillers, to exist. Realism is nothing like as naive as its many opponents charge; almost all the great 20th-century realist novels also reflect on their own making, and are full of artifice. But it may be an impossible ideal, whereby the writer has to act as if the available novelistic methods are continually about to turn into mere convention—into "realism" as Roland Barthes or even as Rick Moody would understand it—and so has to try to outwit that inevitable ageing. The realist writer, that free servant of life, is one who must always be acting as if life were a category beyond anything the novel had yet grasped; as if life itself were always on the verge of becoming conventional.