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On the autonomy of bodily present in the aesthetics of literary realism



The article explores one possible source of the verisimilitude of literary realism – its prominent detailed descriptions of material and social reality. Our aim is to relate this poetically autonomous descriptive faculty to the alleged representational objectivity of literary realism, and explain how descriptions function as a source of realist verisimilitude from a philosophical as well as poetic point of view. We use Madis Kõiv’s phenomenological explanation of the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity from his little-known text „On the Objectivity of Subjectivity” to see how it reflects upon Fredric Jameson’s recent elaboration of literary realism as a poetic balance between the distinct faculties of narrative and scene, emotion and affect, personal fate and impersonal bodily present. We show how Kõiv’s thoughts on the objectivity of phenomenological existence supplement Jameson’s claim that realist descriptions, as autonomous poetic units, signify the impersonal affective present common to all bodily experience. We analyze the poetics of literary descriptions by Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola to trace the gradual historical autonomy of affective bodily present from realism to naturalism and beyond. Madis Kõiv’s own work is presented in this context as an example of Estonian literary modernism.