lunes, 13 de mayo de 2013

The Rise of the Anti-Realist Novel: On Defoe, Sellars, Foucault and Ishiguro



- THE RISE OF THE ANTI-REALIST NOVEL -

____________________________

    The following is a modest attempt to engage critically with the historical narrative about the rise of the novel proposed by Ian Watt in his influential study The Rise of the Novel, and in which he draws a complicity between what he designates as the philosophical realism of the early modern period, and the emergence of the novel form. My contention is that Watt's reading betrays a correct understanding of the philosophical climate and ideas which nevertheless must be correctly understood as inspiring the emergence of new literary forms, and specifically the novel. That said, I diagnose in the individualist turn proposed in the early novel a complicity with what can more correctly be diagnosed as the anti-realist tendencies that followed from incipient skeptical doubts raised in early modern philosophy.

I - Parallel Shipwrecks: On Desert Landscapes 

        The American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars was fond of speaking about the empiricist philosophies of the early modern period by using the expression "Robinson Crusoe theories of knowledge", referring to their primitive epistemological explorations. For him, the deserted islands of Defoe's Crusoe provided a handy metaphor to conjure what in his mind were the isolated provinces of individualist thought. These philosophers, he argued, "... did not really think out the problematic of intersubjectivity", but remained confined to the narrow and austere expanses of an individual exploration, or quest for self-knowledge[1]. Besides the apparent light-heartedness of the comparison proposed here, of course, Defoe's genre-inaugurating work details the ruminations of the one who survives a shipwreck, void of provisions, and threatened by the hostile forces of nature. The imperative implied in the incipient modern beginning is at once epistemological and practical; it informs both the awakening of the individual's critical powers before the present, and accordingly assigns to individual thought the singular destiny of emancipatory production. Through Crusoe's autistic triumph, Dafoe tethers truth to the impersonal deployment of the individual's rational powers, so that "“He that hath truth on his side is a fool as well as a coward if he is afraid to own it because fo other mens's opinions.[2]” 

The novel's rupture with literary traditionalism, in this inaugural gesture, is thereby aligned to the image of the single individual, castaway, destined to survive alone in his exploratory ventures, against the opprobrium of a time and place foreign to its example. Yet, behind what appears as an otherwise playful locution, Sellars is ultimately leveling a critique on such early modern views, precisely insofar as in privileging the subject or individual they thereby become insensitive to the social, intersubjective dimension of knowledge. Insensitive to intersubjectivity, "The Robinson Crusoe conception of the world as generating conceptual thinking directly on the mind is too simple a mode. The perennial tradition long limited itself to accounting for the presence in the individual of the framework of conceptual thinking in terms of a unique kind of action of reality as intelligible on the individual mind.[3]

Continuing the thrust of Sellars' metaphor, we would be tempted to ask what shipwreck, indeed which unsuspecting vessel, had to be sunk in order for thought to meet the deserted islands of epistemological reflection. That under the name of traditional metaphysics, perhaps? The realist naivety that mind could simply apprehend the vast domains of the Real without a propadeutic enquiry into its own facultative powers? However laudable their enterprise, and however playful in tone Sellars' insinuation is, one cannot but wonder whether the individualist thought that marks the advent of these philosophical forms finds not only the triumphant and parallel shipwrecks of traditionalist forms in philosophy and literature, but also a castaway's desolate arrival in the shores of a myopic, indeed claustrophobic individualist terrain. 

We are obliged to ask, it seems, about what the novel's epochal rupture with the literary forms of its time consisted in, more precisely, in its complicity with individualism. In this regard, Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel teases out that "The novel is the form of literature which most fully reflects this individualist and innovating reorientation. Previous literary forms had reflected the general tendency of their cultures to make conformity to traditional practice the major test of truth: the plots of a classical and renaissance epic, for example, were based on past history or fable, and the merits of the author's treatment were judged largely according to a view of literary decorum derived from the accepted models in the genre. This literary traditionalism was first and most fully challenged by the novel, whose primary criterion was truth to individual experience - individual experience which is always unique and therefore new. The novel is thus the logical literary vehicle of a culture which, in the last few centuries, has set an unprecedented value on originality, on the novel; and it is therefore well named.[4]" And, indeed, the truth which Dafoe announces becomes often quite a solitary matter, in the side of individual creation, rather than a continuation or a repetition in the side of tradition. 

Watt notes in the incipient novel-form proper to Dafoe and Richardson thus an interruption of the dependence of narrative fiction on mythological, religious and popular wisdom, a dependence however that ubiquitously enveloped literary production until then, and that would not be definitively interrupted, he claims, until the 19th century[5][6]. He writes in this regard that "Defoe and Richardson are the first great writers in our literature who did not take their plots from mythology, history, legend or previous literature. In this they differ from Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton, for instance, who, like the writers of Greece and Rome, habitually used traditional plots; and who did so, in the last analysis, because they accepted the general premise of their times that, since Nature is essentially complete and unchanging, its records, whether scriptural, legendary or historical, constitute a definitive repertoire of human experience." (13-14) Against the stasis of the traditionalist world and the narrative redundancy of its literary forms, Watt aligns the novel with the modern spirit and its avowal of originality, creativity, and individual defiance, not at all unlike the critical force behind the modern secularist thought probed by the philosophers, which challenged the theological discourse of the preceding Scholastic metaphysics, and questioned through unprecedented methodological scrutiny the lineage of the tradition, from antiquity to its present. Yet Watt does not hesitate to align the historical vector leading from the novel to literary vanguardism to what he calls the realist tendencies of empiricist philosophies[7]. Those philosophers which, Sellars tells us, rummage in the solitude of self, in what appears to his eyes to be something of an autistic slumber. 

At this juncture, Watt's proposal to align the emergence of the novel form with the progressive spirit set by modern philosophers through the common aspiration towards realism seems suddenly at odds with the timid insinuations bestowed to us by the philosopher himself. For hasn't Sellars' metaphor pointed to what is, in fact, short of a great emancipatory gesture for thinking, in fact a colossal shipwreck, a destitution of thought from its populous ports, failing as it is to account for the intersubjective and the impersonal? A thought finally incapable of breaching the solipsistic court of self and stray farther out to the 'great outdoors' coveted by any philosophy worthy of the name? One might be tempted, thereby, to critically assess Watt's appropriation of the term 'realism' to describe the advent of the novel form by drawing close analogy to the modern philosophical context, calling attention to the common pursuit for an anti-traditionalist individualism that, in some sense, remains confined to deserted islands. But more than a potential historical corrective to Watt's reading, a reconsideration of the impetus behind realism and individualism, if indeed a wedge can be driven between the literary and the philosophical through these slippery terms, can also serve to diagnose the expiration of the emancipatory potential incumbent in the primitive modern exemplars. 

Once the complicity between realism and individualism is shown to be suspect, the secularist thrust motivating the inflection to self in the early novel and epistemology is shown to come at the price of implicating its secularism in tandem to philosophical idealism, or else, to use Quentin Meillassoux's useful term, to pave the way idealism by way of a correlationism, i.e. the view that thought can at best aspire to think that which is relative to itself[8]. Or, to speak like Sellars, we are soon led to the austere result that thought cannot but explore its own deserted islands. And so the novel seems to find in individualism the only response to the traditionalist narrative, much like modern epistemology sequesters thought away from the naive realism of the ancient metaphysicians only to find itself entrapped within the subject's own narrow expanses. 



II - Realism, Individualism, Correlationism: The Rise of the Anti-Realist Novel 

In order to set up our dispute, it will be helpful to narrow down precisely in what sense Watt seeks to read the rise of the novel as marked by the realist orientation in philosophy. This is necessary, since Watt clearly distinguishes a different sense in which the term "realism" acquires force within the context of 19th century artistic production, namely that of the French school, in which the term was used term in a properly aesthetic key: "The main critical associations of the term 'realism' are with the French school of Realists. 'Réalisme' was apparently first used as an aesthetic description in 1835 to denote the 'vérité humaine' of Rembrandt as opposed to the 'idéalité poétique' of neo-classical painting; it was later consecrated as a specifically literary term by the foundation in 1856 of Réalisme a journal edited by Duranty.[9]" Watt draws no explicit historical connection between this sense of the term realism and the sense he borrows from the philosophical schools; yet his suggestion is clearly that there is more than a trite semantic resonance linking the two, a deeper affinity, where crucially individualism comes to bear. 

Provisionally, let us recall that the classical philosophical dispute between realists and anti-realists found its locus classicus in debates surrounding the thesis of the existence of the external world. The history of this dispute is itself long and contrived, and I do not intend to revisit it here. Instead, I specify the most general determinations that are relevant to comprehending how Watt understands the philosophical ideas that animate the origins of the novel, and the spirit of the times in which such an invention occurred. I use the expression metaphysical realism to refer, in short, to any position according to which there exists a world independently of thought. Accordingly, I call metaphysical anti-realist or idealist any position according to which there is no world independently of the mind, i.e. the view according to which mind and world are identical. What is most salient about these positions is that they are formulated in ontological terms, i.e. they concern the question about what is Real and the attempts to answer it. 

Within the context of the modern period, a further complication of this original division would come by the introduction of the epistemological problematic, which is also the point at which the individual qua knower becomes both methodologically and substantively central to philosophical reflection[10]. As it turns out, it is this aspect that will become most salient when connecting Dafoe's deserted islands to the modern philosophy of mind. I will thus call epistemological realism any position according to which it is possible to know of the world independent of our minds. Accordingly, I will call epistemological anti-realist or correlationist any position that denies that such knowledge is so possible[11]. What is most salient about these last two positions is, in contrast to metaphysical realism and idealism, that they are formulated in epistemological terms, i.e. they concern the question about how we know what is Real, where the bearer of this knowledge is, of course, the cogito, the thinking subject or individual[12]

Framed within the scope of these terms, Watt explicitly identifies the philosophical sense of realism that bears on the rise of the novel as that pertaining to the epistemological realism of the early moderns, in terms which are surprisingly cogent with our own proposed terminology. Yet he claims that, far from proposing a direct engagement with the philosophical issues implied by these positions, the novel merely took up the "spirit" of their problems: 

"But the view that the external world is real, and that our senses give us a true report of it, obviously does not in itself throw much light on literary realism; since almost everyone, in all ages, has in one way or another been forced to some such conclusion about the external world by his own experience, literature has always been to some extent exposed to the same epistemological naïveté. Further, the distinctive tenets of realist epistemology, and the controversies associated with them, are for the most part much too specialized in nature to have much bearing on literature. What is important to the novel in philosophical realism is much less specific; it is rather the general temper of realist thought, the methods of investigation it has used, and the kinds of problems it has raised.[13]

The passage above is tantalizing, but ultimately unperspicuous. What are these general "problems" which according to Watt define the early modern spirit? And what was, finally the spirit raised, if not that informed by the very philosophical theses and questions that Watt just stated it would be folly to assume were taken up by the early novelists? What are these 'kinds' if not the set of epistemological directives that, according to Sellars, sent our ships into atrophying rocks? At this juncture, somewhat predictably, the question of individualism enters into the picture. For the 'general temper' in question will concern first and foremost the upsetting of the traditionalist avowal of Universals in favor of what Watt calls "the particulars of experience." 

"The general temper of philosophical realism has been critical, anti-traditional and innovating; its method has been the study of the particulars of experience by the individual investigator, who, ideally at least, is free from the body of past assumptions and traditional beliefs; and it has given a peculiar importance to semantics, to the problem of the nature of the correspondence between words and reality. All of these features of philosophical realism have analogies to distinctive features of the novel form, analogies which draw attention to the characteristic kind of correspondence between life and literature which has obtained in prose fiction since the novels of Defoe and Richardson.[14]

But of course, the particulars of experience alluded to by Watt amount to nothing else but the experience of particulars, that is, the account of the life proper to singular individuals. Accordingly, Watt celebrates the greatness of the Cartesian method as having done away with mankind's blind trust in dogmatically prescribed forms and beliefs, a skepticism which the novel takes up in focusing on the primacy of an "...individual experience which is unique and therefore new.[15]" Defoe's adoption of the first person auto-biographical form is then exemplarily seen as a timely analogue to the thematization of the Cartesian cogito, while Locke's call for the preponderance of experience through the givenness of sensibility seems adequate to a new narrative seeking to explore the experiential indoors of the individual. Finally, "The parallel here between the tradition of realist thought and the formal innovations of the early novelists is obvious: both philosophers and novelists paid greater attention to the particular individual than had been common before.[16]

For Watt, the alignment of realism and individualism, in philosophy and the novel, consists therefore in the secularist vector that it initiates for thought. The disruption of tradition, the avowal of critical distance with respect to textual forms, the raising of strong methodological questions (the epistemological, the meta-narrative...), the prime on experience… all become symptoms of a burgeoning incredulity slowly wearing away at the rocks of tradition. All of these gestures are ultimately aligned to a realism that tacitly affirms the creative potency of the subject, over and against the prescriptions of its time and culture. Watt summarizes: "The novel is thus the logical literary vehicle of a culture which, in the last few centuries, has set an unprecedented value on originality, on the novel; and it is therefore well named.[17]

But what about the properly philosophical question about the external world? Was this, as might be expected, too specific a demand or theme to concern the novelists, as Watt suggests? And even if this is so, might this exclusion or obviation in the appropriation of the term realism to describe the advent of the novel nevertheless not veil what perhaps sided the individualist turn of the modern period more specifically to forms of epistemological and metaphysical anti-realism, in the sense we outlined above? For it is clear that Watt's alignment of the early modern philosophers with the banner of epistemological realism is only adequate insofar as one considers the latter as part of the secularizing break that individualism implied with respect to traditional narrative forms. Nevertheless, as Quentin Meillassoux points out, what the modern philosophers enacted through the turn to the individual, was quite the opposite of a triumphant epistemological realism, a secure knowledge conquered by the methodological awakening of epistemology and later the critical method. Indeed, although Descartes' rationalism attempts to rescue thought from the moment of radical doubt and thereby defy the solitude of the cogito back onto the physical world and the Divine, the empiricist who plays so central a role (according to Watt) could not be said to uphold an epistemological realism, in the strict sense. Indeed, suffocated by skeptical uncertainties, this tradition initiates the epistemological anti-realism or correlationist vector towards idealism that finds its radicalization in Berkeley's subjectivation of primary properties (those thought by the rationalist to give knowledge of the external world), and reaches its apex in the great German Idealist tradition, from Kant to Hegel, and beyond[18]

Is it not also then cause for suspicion that the bulwark of the 18th and 19th century Idealist tradition plays no comparable role to that of the mistakenly dubbed epistemological realisms of the early rationalists and empiricists in setting up the stage and development for the early novel, according to Watt's genealogy? Yet, as we have been insinuating, the empiricist precursors to overt idealism had already portended a general skepticism against the possibility of reaching beyond our perception of the immediate present, as disclosed to experience. The loss of justification when securing the causal necessity said to obtain between events in the world rendered the postulate of natural law as precarious as the immediate existence of the outside world. Or, as Meillassoux condenses brilliantly apropos Hume and the problem of induction, the question raised by the empiricists was: “Can one establish that in identical circumstances, future successions of phenomena will always be identical to previous successions?” (Meillassoux: 2008, Pg. 85) Where knowledge about the natural world and its lawfulness started to seem ever more precarious, only the new order of individual, subjective law, could fill in the gap. 

If the "general temper" that aligned philosophy and the novel was therefore to latch onto its individualism, then must we not accept the novel also inserted itself, perhaps unreflectively, into the history that leads from the correlationist skepticism about the viability of realism to the idealist's ultimately identification of mind and world? For, as we surmised above, the modern secularist break found in the critical interstices of our particular experience and our subjectivity the only domain to find shelter from the said ubiquity of tradition and dogma that passed in the name of universal law. As I read it, Sellars recommendation can be interpreted as waging critique against critique itself, refusing the individualism of correlationism or idealism, however implicitly assumed, as the only possible answers to traditionalist narrative forms. Is there no destiny for a progressive literary production, finally, other than to emancipate itself from all universalism in the name of an anthropocentric odyssey, making of the literary nothing but a confessionary box for the human? Or, put differently, what would a literature adequate to the thrust of a genuine philosophical realism be like? A realism, that is, that does not sacrifice thought to deserted islands to safeguard itself against traditionalism, but that might open us into the inhospitable outdoors under the imperative that, in the words of Ray Brassier, "thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of the living.[19]" How to appropriate for the novel a contemporary sense of realism which would not stop at the secularizing amputation of traditionalist forms, but would push this secularizing vector further, setting itself against the anti-realist philosophical arena in relation to which it began, unsuspectingly to Watt? 

To conclude I try to narrow down this predicament to tease out a possible new direction for the realist novel to be understood. To awaken and ask, in the spirit of Foucault's appropriation of the Kantian call for an Enlightenment in the present day "Quelle est mon actualité?[20]" I believe this question might, once qualified to the domain of narrative production, be more perspicuously stated as: what is (or would be) a contemporary literary form? What is the truth of literature, if indeed it can be said to be concerned with truth at all, and if this truth is to be perhaps no longer plausibly tethered to narcissism of the individual thinker, but must rise, like Sellars says, to the intersubjective, and the social. How to advance such a vision without vitiating our realist impetus in the name of a social constructivism, instrumentalist pragmatism, and the threats that idealization presents at every corner? 



III - Towards a Contemporary Realist Literary Form 

Further strands in the history of individualism can be traced through Michel Foucault's symptomatic diagnosis, dating back to the Hellenistic period, and extending as far as today. Far from being a nested modern phenomenon, Foucault highlights how individualism's ancient lineage relays through a 'family resemblance' three central and yet relatively autonomous (though often interconnected) ideas: the individualistic attitude, the avowal of private life, and the intensification of self-relations[21]. From these at least the last two seem continuous with the phenomena Watt diagnoses apropos the modern period, while Foucault focuses on the disciplines of the third strand which concerned the emergent normative practices within the so-called "cultivation of the self", understood as the process whereby "...the art of existence- the techne tou biou in its different forms- is dominated by the principle that says one must "take care of oneself""[22]. Foucault explicitly aligns this 'existential art' to modernity by way of adapting Kant's Enlightenment-call for a separation from the present, by way of the critical operation of the subject's rational faculties against dogma, constituting what he call the "art of the living"[23]

But whereas for Kant the call for an Enlightened care-of-self was transferred to the political domain by way of a "public use of reason", where the individual's critical capacity and the intersubjective domain coveted by Sellars would coalesce, Foucault proposes instead to move away from any such subjectivist epistemology into the hermeneutically attuned "historical ontology of ourselves.[24]" For Kant, the practical, social and by extension political range of epistemological reflection can only be attained by critique insofar as the individual "finally learns to walk alone", perhaps in Dafoe's deserted islands, once pure reason is distilled in its empty form. For Foucault, as for Sellars, one begins rather in the populated ports of the socio-historical domain, while individuality is indeed not the condition but the result of emancipation and production, i.e. the subject is not the substantial 'given' that orchestrates revolution, but the material embodiment of a new socio-historical reality. Indeed, the disenchanting, securalizing force assigned to philosophy consists, if anything, in continuing "... to emphasize the extent to which a type of philosophical interrogation- one that simultaneously problematizes man's relation to the present, man's historical mode of being, and the constitution of the self as an autonomous subject- is rooted in the Enlightenment... not a faithfulness to doctrinal elements, but rather the permanent reactivation of an attitude- that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era.[25]" The specificity of a 'technics of self' that would be adequate to confront the biopolitical assimilation of individualist thought, must in this sense be adequate to a post-subjectivist or post-individualist attitude; critical thought is no longer anchored on the traditional (modern) vessels of the Cartesian cogito, or even in the undoubtedly more complex cruise of the Kantian transcendental subject. It must be, in Foucault's words, adequate to think of such a historical ontology of ourselves (rather than 'fundamental' ontology in Heidegger's sense, or critical-transcendental epistemology, in Kant's sense). 

In the face of this diagnosis, the potency of the modern individualism avowed by the philosophers and early novelists would, in their critical solitude, remain amputated from the socio-political progressiveness avowed by the call for Enlightenment, the latter being only reflexively accessible via a futile exercise of hermeneutic acumen. Indeed, Foucault preemptively announces, like Heidegger before him, a furious critique of the modern attitude by virtue of which individualism, like epistemology and subjectivism, remains too metaphysically encumbered, too laden and latent with unquestioned dogmas, so as to perform the liberating function Kant and his predecessors expected from it. Only the contemporary liberation from the subject promises to be truly modern, to contest to the modern Ptolemaic counter-revolutionary individualist turn, and nod towards man's destitution from the centrality of experience. I would suggest furthermore that an additional step is necessary, whereby we distance ourselves from Foucault's residual anthropocentrism, captured in his overt ontologizing of human history. In my estimation, to denounce subjectivism by ontologizing the social is to trade one form of idealism for another, one for which once again being must be rendered correlative to thought, not only epistemically, but metaphysically. We may thus risk a first imperative for a coming realist literature: it must simultaneously capture the social dimension of knowing that is constitutively social, as Foucault insists, while not reifying this dimension ontologically. It must insist on the separation between thought and the world. This is precisely the alternative that is explored by Sellars' own philosophical project, which seeks to reconcile a social conception of knowledge as a practice, with a naturalist ontology. Yet the decisive first task, in what concerns the fictional narrative, must be to question the ubiquity of individualist doxa, which confusedly continues to elide both the social dimension knowing, and a reality whose interest for thought, as Brassier puts it, "...do not coincide with those of the living."

   We can ask with Foucault: what happens when the very call for individual creativity, originality, and the ostracizing of tradition become the very instituted forms of tradition, or the very vehicles for repetition, like the subject was for philosophy in Sellars' and Heidegger's eyes? What to do when the novel form is delivered to the disempowering force of an all-too ubiquitous call for self-creation, as prescribed as it is disempowering, and where the individual, having exhausted its emancipatory potential, creates no further a stir than a parrot wilting as it aimlessly recites inherited phrases, flapping hopelessly in a cage? When we are struck by the 'literary mediocrity' that reeks "…particularly today; the belief that to make a novel, for instance, it suffices to have a personal matter at hand." and waging instead that "…writing is not the private matter of each one of us. It is to set oneself in a universal matter. Whether in the novel or in philosophy.[26]" The difficulty consists in determining how to set oneself in such 'universal matters' without reinstituting the traditionalism of the pre-modern form, nor coming up short in the merely subjectivist attempt to transcend it with Kant and the moderns. Is it through the "hermeneutic ontology of ourselves" predicated by Foucault's tentative foretelling? The radicalized realism in the form of a "constructive deconstruction" proposed by Zadie Smith, which rummages in the cynical acceptance of our slumber amidst "inauthentic" expressions, only captured (but never escaped) through meta-narrative awareness? A fetishized attempt, that is, to avoid the tradition and the perils of cliché; to seek a moderate authenticity gauged in the negotiation of spectral "inauthenticities", and in spite of the deconstructionist precautions against the nostalgia for lost origins behind those who reify any sense of the 'authentic'[27]?

    In my estimation, Heideggerean-inspired patheticism does not seem too consoling. Indeed, can any constructive, positive alternative be found in a perspective that sees in an exacerbation of critique to the proto-nihilist conclusion "…that the world is what it is, and, moreover, that all our relations with it are necessarily inauthentic.[28]"? One thing seems clear, as long as the critical awakening aroused by the modern venture is not met with an equally resilient potency for construction, thought is fatally destined to the reveries against the sacred, to the reification of the individual's incredulity, and to the precautionary cynicism that paralyzes any positive ambition as fatally sealed in advance. Of course, it would be folly to assume that the novel had to remain confined to the interests which defined its authors at its time of inception. Still, it must be possible to ask what would be a novel-form adequate to such an imperative be, if indeed, the novel remains the adequate form for such a contemporary Enlightenment? 

As a possible prolegomena to a contemporary literature, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go provides a fitting statement of the unspoken distress provoked by our contemporary predicament, facing the limitations of the potency that individuality and subjective creation once harbored. Set in a dystopian post-WWII setting, Ishiguro narrates a society where generations of clones, seemingly indiscernible in their human features from their 'original' models, are sacrificed to become organ donors for the rest of the population. In the meantime, the isolated clone population is prepared for martyrdom in various 'educational institutes', where eventually they become caretakers or 'carers' for those clones who have already begun donating, around the age of thirty. Narrated through the memoirs of young protagonist Kathy, already aged thirty one, the story tells the destined short lives of three young friends as they are brought up together in one of the institutes, Hailsham, until they become close to ripe for their donations to begin. Short circuiting the memoir-form at the hands of a young girl, Ishiguro's disarming exhibition of childish and juvenile drama exacerbates the fatal urgency these 'recluses' must invariably face. 

Yet Hailsham's peculiarity transpires by way of a superficial hospitability; the children are supervised to maintain good physical health, they grow to develop normal relationships, and are routinely encouraged to be creative, and artistically productive. They engage in seasonal 'exchanges' where they trade-in all sorts of self-made items for donated paraphernalia, and their best artistic work is taken up to be exhibited at "the Gallery", an unseen and mysterious exhibition of almost mythical status, presumably held to display the children's best artistic work. Ignoring their invariable fate, nevertheless, Kathy's narrative voice expresses the sense of urgency imposed by the institutional demand for subjective creation, drawing analogy to her social anxiety in the face of sexual awakening, as she proclaims "sex had got like “being creative” had been a few years earlier. It felt like if you hadn’t done it yet, you ought to, and quickly.[29]" Short of being depicted as a reservoir for potential transgression, the call for artistic creation is represented from the start of the novel as somehow sedating and prescribed; however enthusiastically assumed, it amounts ultimately to nothing else than an additional routine which plays right into the predetermined fate that awaits them, rather than opening the gulf to shatter it. 

As it turns out, we learn that the much vaunted "Gallery" really pertained to a futile attempt by the educators at Hailsham to prove to the invisibly distant civilian population outside the institutes that the clones were humans, that they were no different than the rest of humanity, exhibiting their artistic works as evidence for the authenticity of their subjective depth. Confronted by their nearing end in hopes of a mere 'deferral' for their donations, Kathy and her friend Tommy unearth the disarming truth from their former teacher, Miss Emily, who candidly confesses: "You said it was because your art would reveal what you were like. What you were like inside. That’s what you said, wasn’t it? Well, you weren’t far wrong about that. We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.[30]” 

Stripped helpless before the steady track towards his death, Tommy breaks down in an outburst of rage, just like the ones he experienced since he was a child as a reaction to being powerlessly bullied. The novel presents no fitting consolation for the reader; indeed, it refuses to reify the clones' evident humanity into a latent source for revolutionary political power, or their artistic creation as a potentially transformative engagement to be channelized through creativity and defiance. Instead, the characters for the most part seem to accept their fate, against the background of a largely anonymous State-power which has reduced them to sacrificial vessels for a population that is likewise invisible. In an epiphanic moment towards the book's conclusion, the three characters, reunited after separation, decide to visit a fabled beach where an old boat famously lies shipwrecked, deserted on the shore. Seemingly unsupervised, the characters' dialog does not offer any subsiding fantasies about escape, salvation, but merely negotiate over their proximate demise. Kathy proclaims, fatalistically: "“We’ve seen the boat,” I said, “but now we’ve got to get back.[31]" Ishiguro's virtue resides precisely in avoiding any palliatives to the discomforting powerlessness that blankets over once the kernel of rebellious potency and individual creativity have been assimilated to the biopolitical machinery. A State, that is, no longer confined by borders or forced to tame the unruly tendencies, since even the vital élan has become cynically decomposed, nothing but the host for pathetic exhibitionism. The critical purchase of thought achieved by rendering explicit the trodden capacity of subjectivity before power is ridiculed and reduced to nothing but an implicit surrender; the invisibility of the novel's dampening world only matched by the deafness of its unobtrusive silence; the moral indifference of the perpetrators only matched by the incapacity to even think of another world. The shipwreck no longer signals a triumphant survival or arrival, it underlines the indifference of a world, as Brassier describes, truly indifferent to the interests of the living. 

At the deepest level, the novel refuses even to fetishize hope in the form of ignorance: rather than having the donor-carer system be a secretive operation of the State at the margins of an unsuspecting population, it is unabashedly public and accepted. Even before the resounding evidence of their artistic works, it is tacitly conveyed that both the political powers and population remain undisturbed in unison. The end of the book pushes the predicament faced by the characters to its limit, as it deflates the last thread of hope when, in a morbidly pathetic climax, Kathy risks insinuating to Tommy that his regular raging outbursts must have entailed that he had at least knowledge of what lied ahead of them, to which he sternly responds: "Don't think so Kath. No, it was always just me. Me just being an idiot.[32]" The timid laughter that accompanies Tommy's sobering yet somber comment snatches any remnant of hope in the reader to find some final comfort, a reservoir of meaning or in the character's intuition, thought or memory, trivializing the power of thought to its extreme: 'They might die, but at least one of them knew!', this is precisely the consolation that never arrives, and lends the book its discomforting radicality. The book's concluding line depicts the tragic junction of resolve and hopelessness, as Kathy yields confessing: "... I wasn't sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned out of the car, to drive off to wherever I was supposed to be.[33]

It is to Ishiguro's tremendous credit to avoid the pitfalls of supplanting a facile heroism of invention adequate to the modern ideal of self-creation for the provincialist apologies of the pre-modern lifestyle. However fatalist in its predicament, Ishiguro's plot does not hesitate to embrace a hyper-objectification of subjectivity, before which the apologies for the irreducibility of the human, of the subject, of life, cannot but seem exhausted philosophical shoptalk at best, and quasi-religious consolation at worst. It reckons the brutal truth that thought faces once it disowns and re-articulates itself within the objective efficacy of a worldview for which the reveries for man have been assimilated to a higher-order normative power, a nameless economy for which the individual matters less than nothing.[34]




[1] SELLARS, Wilfrid, Kant and Pre-Kantian Themes: Lectures by Wilfrid Sellars, Ridgeview Publishing, Pg. 7. 
[2] DAFOE, William, Robinson Crusoe, Pg. 45. 
[3] SELLARS, Wilfrid, Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man in Science, Perception, and Reality, Ridgeview Publishing, Pg. 16. 
[4] WATT, Ian, The Rise of the Novel, Peregrine, 1956, Pg. 13-15. 
[5] And although this interruption with traditionalist prescriptions was certainly not limited to the Anglophone context of the novel, the propriety of the latter seems to lie in its progressive refusal to borrow from historical narratives of the past to examine the present. Thus, although Cervantes' Quixote was also clearly challenging and mocking the narrative conventions of the time (the interruption of academicist and scholastic conventions; the demand of great poetry as prefacing the works, the saturation of references...), its plot was thematically tied to the traditional mythology of chivalry even if, it must be accepted, to do so with unprecedented critical and ironic distance. 
[6] Ibid. 
[7] Ibid. 
[8] The term is Quentin Meillassoux's. See his After Finitude, translated by Ray Brassier, Continuum, Pg. 9-11 
[9] Watt, Pg. 23. 
[10] For a historical account see Wilfrid Sellars, Kant and Pre-Kantian Themes. 
[11] MEILLASSOUX, QUENTIN , After Finitude, translated by Ray Brassier, Continuum, Pg. 9-11 
[12] In spite of this obvious difference in key, it should be apparent that although epistemological realism entails metaphysical realism, the observe is not the case. For to say that the external world is knowable implies that there is a world so as to be known; while one might think in turn that such a world exists or could exist but is nevertheless unknowable. This amounts to saying that epistemological anti-realism does not commit one to metaphysical anti-realism: it is perfectly possible to say one cannot know of the world even if one claims that it exists. 
[13] Watt, Pg. 34. 
[14] Ibid. Pg. 7 
[15] Ibid, Pg. 8. 
[16] Ibid. Pg 13 
[17] Ibid. 
[18] This vector eventually leads properly to the Romantic privileging of aesthetic production over rational cognition (Schiller, Nietzsche...) that would coincide more properly with the avowal of individual creation that Watt finds in complicity with the rise in novel. The philosophical background sets this stage: Kant had agreed with Hume in taking sensibility to constitute an amorphous manifold which is then formed by mental associations, but proceeds to define a transcendental structure of pure reason that gives the necessity sought by Hume in the outside world. For Kant, sensibility is passive, and although is given under the minimal forms of space and time, he agrees with Hume in that the manifold of sense lacks determinate content; perception yields nothing but a 'bundle of sensations'. This is where the categorical work of the understanding operates thus. Objectual determinacy, which defines the Natural field of causation, constrains the aesthetic by synthesizing it with the understanding (into the pure unity of apperception). Thus, in the end, for Kant, freedom is paradoxically that which emerges from within the constraint to universality, as a kind of pure adequation to reason. The amorphousness of experience did not fall prey to skeptical interference insofar as it preserved the rationalist ideation. 

What the Romantic aestheticist avowal of feeling and sensibility does is to dislodge the residual rationalism from Kant's idealist project. Practical reason is reserves a space for action for the act of pure freedom as that which is 'purposeless', that defies all natural 'law' or rational synthesis. Thus the avowal of the dictum that life is 'purposiveness without purpose' comes to disavow the categorical imperative with a kind of vital imperative. If we take this back to the incipient rise of the novel; the ideals of individual creation found its definitive expression during this time. The sensible particularity of the individual affirmed itself in exception to the universal constriction of Universal reason, delivering thought to the pure will, which can assert in the form of creation the determinations of reason, rather than submission. The amorphousness of sensibility the gulf constitutes a proper excess to the determinate constraints of reason and nature. From here it is not difficult to see how the category of the aesthetic has been reified as a political antidote to dogmatisms, and how such a view may have influenced literary production. 

[19] BRASSIER, Ray, Nihil Unbound, Pallgrave, 2007, Pg. 3. 
[20] Although we might be tempted to translate Foucault's ' actualité" with the English "present", and though it certainly asks about the timeliness of the question, I think 'actuality' preserves the philosophical contrast to 'potentiality' that is pregnant in Foucault's writing. The idea is to develop those potentials thus, to bring into the present those individuations which have hitherto remain unactualized by asking which ones define one's temporal situatedness. This tension is more palpable in his references to Kant, made explicit during his 1982-1983 lectures, where he asks "Quel est le champ actuel des experiencés possibles.", which we might thereby translate as "What is the actual terrain of possible experiences." Le Gouvernement de soi et des autres: Cours au Collège de France 1982-1983, ed. FrançoisEwald, Alessandro Fontana, and Frédéric Gros (Paris: Gallimard, 2008) 
[21] FOUCAULT, Michel, Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, UMP, Pg. 34. 
[22] Ibid. 
[23] I do not intend to revisit the arduous history that Foucault details in his text, but rather propose to assess directly the ways in which individualism, in the abovementioned senses, become configured from the modern period onwards, before suggesting a potential haven where the contemporary novel becomes implicated within this tradition, as a way to complicate the story set by Watt. 
[24] Ibid. 44 
[25] FOUCAULT, Michel, What is Enlightenment?, pp 7. 
[26] DELEUZE, Gilles, Abecedary, H for History of Philosophy , translation by author, available in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHJna7X29bs 
 SMITH, Zadie, Two Paths for the Novel, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/nov/20/two-paths-for-the-novel/?pagination=false 
[28] Ibid. 
[29] Ishiguro, Never Let me Go, Vintage, 2006, Pg. 136. 
[30] Ibid, 201. 
[31] Ibid, 178. 
[32] Ibid, 204. 
[33] Ibid. 278.
[34] For an exemplar of how this dialectical negotiation between the manifest and scientific images of man in the world within a literary context, see Scott Bakker's stellar Neuropath, Tor Books, 2010.

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