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The Cafe Irreal: Irreal (Re)views

A response to "A response to 'Defining irrealism'"

by Dean Swinford, University of Florida

I'll admit I'm glad that, in Greg Evans' response to my "Defining Irrealism: Scientific Development and Allegorical Possibility," Mr. Evans stresses the importance of the human subject. I think that, indirectly, this consideration returns us to the main purpose of this exchange, of defining Irrealism as a vehicle for expression and artistic development. In that sense, these theoretical considerations of the Irreal are intended to provoke the creation of new Irreal works. The trick is to avoid the limitations imposed by rhetorical forms like the manifesto or the historiographic catalogue of literary fossils. Perhaps we should entirely discard an attempt to comprehensively define Irrealism. Perhaps a better question to begin with would be "What is an Irrealist?"

Such a reformulation of the purpose of theoretical investigations of Irrealism should emphasize the artist's goal in creating an Irreal work. I'd contend that the Irreal imagination provides a site of resistance which is perhaps more difficult to justify than a more exclusively political art. It reacts to and comments on the world from a position somehow beyond the world. In that sense, Irrealists are, above all, the cartographers and caretakers of the imaginary.

That said, I'd emphasize that the scientific changes I discuss are important primarily because they impact imaginative possibilities. My comments to Mr. Evans' response to my article take the form of a brief clarification of ideas. I'd like to thank Greg for organizing this exchange and hope to develop this discussion in the future. I'm interested in remarks/ opinions and request that readers contact me at: swinford@english.ufl.edu.

1) To distinguish the approaches which The Cafe Irreal and I use to explore Irrealism as, respectively, phenomenological and structuralist implies that Irrealism itself can operate only as an emanation from either of these analytical methods. Indeed, such a division implicitly links Irrealism to phenomenology in such a way as to dismiss the validity of structuralist approaches when applied to Irrealism.

In other words, such a division implies that Irrealism (if such a totality is even possible) is knowable only through a specific analytical method. However, my contention, like that of The Cafe Irreal, is that Irrealism is a field of artistic possibility engendered by very real social, environmental, philosophical alteration. Thus, I contend, that we must use many analytical methods in order to understand and (if possible) define Irrealism as a multi-faceted concept. A more complete definition of Irrealism would indicate how the Irreal is detectable, regardless of method.

2) But, that said, I should reemphasize that narratological and structuralist considerations must accompany any attempt to introduce and define a narratological category. Such an endeavor, whether it applies to an exploration of genre, or mode, or poetic technique, necessitates considerations of both literary history and classification systems. While Evans remarked in a previous correspondence that "if it is true that Irrealism is a game trying to solve a puzzle, the most interesting thing for me is not the solution to the puzzle itself, abstractly considered, but the subjective impulses, feelings, anger, alienation and so on that drove the author to play this game in the first place, and the field of possibilities the author had," such a statement implies that it is possible to talk about these subjective impulses without commenting on the form which they assume. While it is true that my articulation of Irrealism utilizes the critical apparatus provided by narratology and refers to the works of structuralist thinkers, I am also aware of the limitations of classification systems.

The reason I emphasize narratological structure is to provide a qualitative criteria by which to define Irrealism. Classification systems are corrupt. They are insufficient, but people try to classify things they observe. In my article, "things" normally refers to books and animals. In each case, the system is corrupt, but so is the system the classification system tries to describe. This development, though only one of many, signals the Irreal.

We've always known classification systems are flawed. But that's because they were unable to replicate a divine logic. Now, however, even the natural system (with all its attendant considerations of order and proportion) obeys a logical system the defining characteristics of which seem operative but illogical. The reference which Mr. Evans makes to Erich Fromm's symbolic hierarchies emphasizes these considerations. Fromm's explanation of universal symbols implies a constant relationship between the human and the natural which, furthermore, implies a constancy of human physiological response.

The Irreal, I would say, occurs at the moment when universal and accidental symbols become equally arbitrary, because there is no longer a biological referent, a universal experience, which separates the two. Instead, these categories collapse. For the Irreal imagination, both the accidental and universal symbol refer to the source of bewildering, destabilizing trauma.

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