Realism is redundant. Those writers obsess over found time and found substance, repackaging them into imaginative prose. Some will even extrapolate from conventional time and substance in order to explore large themes. But that exploration takes place inside the comfort zone of regular consciousness. Realism is already manifest and rather woolly. Its artistic hypotheses and deductions expand into muffled precincts of the superfluous.
The most remarkable writers go the other way round. They go strange and don’t extrapolate. Sensitive to the fantastical, they impose rather than extrude. They impose the universal onto time and into substance. Consider that chapter in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, wherein Adrian’s father coaxes pathetic, yearning pseudo-life from chemically tortured crystal growths. Time and substance quiver metaphysically — most universally — when imagination harrows them into new forms.
The Polish writer Bruno Schulz was a remarkable universalist. He didn’t extrapolate from the particular to make some larger case. Rather, he vivified the particular with an injection of the larger case, with an imposition of the universal occult.
When this kind of writing happens, prose finds a new life and it glows.
Our myths are not the only things that are mythic. Existence itself is mythic all the way down. When a writer injects time and substance with the universal mythic, the universal occult, then what-happens-next gets transformed into the infinite poetic. An extra, spatial month gets added to the calendar. Tailors’ dummies mutely declaim abyssal manifestos. A merchant’s rolls of imported fabric flow as gestures of oceanic mystery.
So…wherever you look, you’ll find writers who carve out their little niches of cultural significance or who prosecute their more collectively resonate themes. But you’ll have to search old cellars and forgotten attics to find an imposing writer — one who universalizes a clock into a mythic mood, a housemaid into a scolding fate.
Posted by Tim Buck