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What is realism as understood by the theoretician of art? It is an artistic trend which aims at conveying reality as closely as possible and strives for maximum verisimilitude. We call realistic those works which we feel accurately depict life by displaying verisimilitude. Right off we are faced with an ambiguity, namely:. The question as to whether a given work is realistic or not is covertly reduced to the question of what attitude I take toward it.

Thus meaning B imperceptibly replaces meaning A. In the nineteenth century, this motto gave rise to an artistic movement.

It was primarily the late copiers of that trend who outlined the currently recognized history of art, in particular, the history of literature. Hence one specific case, one separate artistic movement, was identified as the ultimate manifestation of realism in art and was made the standard by which to measure the degree of realism in preceding and succeeding artistic movements.

In other words, to the literary historians the realistic works of the last century represent the highest degree of verisimilitude, the maximum faithfulness to life. Let us now analyze the concept of verisimilitude in art. Can the question be raised about a higher degree of verisimilitude of this or that poetic trope? Can one say that one metaphor or metonymy is conventional or, so to say, figurative?


Realism in Art

The methods of projecting three-dimensional space onto a flat surface are established by convention; the use of color, the abstracting, the simplification, of the object depicted, and the choice of reproducible features are all based on convention. This conventional, traditional aspect of painting to a great extent conditions the very act of our visual perception.

As tradition accumulates, the painted image becomes an ideogram, a formula, to which the object portrayed is linked by contiguity. Recognition becomes instantaneous. We no longer see a picture. The ideogram needs to be deformed. The artist-innovator must impose a new form upon our perceptions, if we are to detect in a given thing those traits which went unnoticed the day before. He may present the object in an unusual perspective; he may violate the rules of composition canonized by his predecessors. Thus Kramskoj, one of the founders of the so-called realist school of Russian painting, recounts in his memoirs his efforts to deform to the utmost the principles of composition as advocated by the Academy.

The urge to deform an ideogram usually underlies the Sturm und Drang stage of new artistic currents. Everyday language uses a number of euphemisms, including polite formulas, circumlocutions, allusions, and stock phrases. However, when we want our speech to be candid, natural, and expressive, we discard the usual polite etiquette and call things by their real names. It will sound more impressive, it will be more striking. To put it in another way, when searching for a word which will revitalize an object, we pick a farfetched word, unusual at least in its given application, a word which is forced into service.

Such an unexpected word may, depending on current usage, be either a figurative or a direct reference to the object. Examples of this sort are numerous, particularly in the history of obscene vocabulary.

To call the sex act by its own name sounds brazen, but if in certain circles strong language is the rule, a trope or euphemism is more forceful and effective. Foreign words are accordingly more insulting and are readily picked up for such purposes. The same applies to revolutionary realism in literature. I leave it to the lover of quotations to collect similar judgments pronounced on Puskin, Gogol, Tolstoj, Andrej Belyj, and others by their contemporaries. To the followers of a new movement, a description based on unessential details seems more real than the petrified tradition of their predecessors.

But the perception of those of a more conservative persuasion continues to be determined by the old canons; they will accordingly interpret any deformation of these canons by a new movement as a rejection of the principle of verisimilitude, as a deviation from realism. They will therefore uphold the old canons as the only realistic ones. The tendency to deform given artistic norms conceived as an approximation of reality. The conservative tendency to remain within the limits of a given artistic tradition conceived as faithfulness to reality. Meaning B presupposes that my subjective evaluation will pronounce a given artistic fact faithful to reality; thus, factoring in the results obtained, we find:.

I rebel against a given artistic code and view its deformation as a more accurate rendition of reality.

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I am conservative and view the deformation of the artistic code, to which I subscribe, as a distortion of reality. In the latter case, only those artistic facts which do not contradict my artistic values may be called realistic. But inasmuch as I hold my own values the tradition to which I belong to be the most realistic, and because I feel that within the framework of other traditions my code cannot be fully realized even if the tradition in question does not contradict it, I find in these traditions only a partial, embryonic, immature, or decadent realism.

I declare that the only genuine realism is the one on which I was brought up. Conversely, in the case of B 1 , my attitude to all artistic formulas contradicting a particular set of artistic values unacceptable to me would be similar to my attitude in the case of B 2 toward forms which are not in opposition. I can readily ascribe a realistic tendency realistic as understood by A 1 to forms which were never conceived as such. In the same way, the Primitives were often interpreted from the point of view of B 1. While their incompatibility with the norms on which we were raised was immediately evident, their faithful adherence to their own norms and tradition was lost from view A 2 was interpreted as A 1.

Similarly, certain writings may be felt and interpreted as poetry, although not at all meant as such. The concrete content of A 1 , A 2 , B 1 , and B 2 is extremely relative. A directly opposite judgment, however, would have been characteristic of a pupil of the Academy in the previous century. Although the post—Cold War period has seen a marked decline in inter state violence and a growing concern about terrorism and civil or ethnic wars, realism continues to make important contributions to the analysis of contemporary security problems. As ethnic conflict and civil war began to dominate the post—Cold War security agenda, Posen a showed that key elements of realist theory — in particular, the absence of a central authority, the vulnerabilities of particular groups, and the implications of rapid shifts in the balance of power — could explain why some multiethnic societies might be especially prone to conflict in the event of a central government collapse.

This basic approach is also consistent with arguments tracing civil war settlements to credible third party guarantees, which overcome the commitment problems inherent in anarchy Walter Recent scholarship on the origins of mass violence highlights the central role that security considerations play in these tragic events. In particular, Valentino convincingly shows that mass killings reflect neither ancient hatreds nor purely ideological programs, but rather the strategic logic of leaders determined to preserve their positions by exterminating groups that they believe pose a long-term threat to either their personal positions or the security of the state itself.

The end of the Cold War triggered a long debate about its likely implications for great power security competition. Mearsheimer argued that the lack of a great power rival would encourage US retrenchment and lead renewed security competition in Europe, while Friedberg —4 , Roy , and Ross drew on realist ideas to anticipate renewed great power competition in Asia. Waltz and Layne ; predicted that a combination of overcommitment and external balancing would soon undermine US primacy, while other realists e.

Over time, growing recognition of the scope of US dominance encouraged important theoretical discussions of the novel condition of unipolarity. Lieber and Press argued that US nuclear weapons policy reflected a continued quest for nuclear superiority, a policy based on the assumption of continued security competition in anarchy. The terrorist attacks on September 11, , lay outside the main tenets of realist thought and some scholars suggested that the new focus on terrorism required a fundamental rethinking of the realist perspective Brenner The main threat to state security now seemed to arise not from other states but from nonstate actors such as al-Qaeda, whose political programs reflected not realpolitik but an amalgam of fundamentalist religion and opposition to perceived foreign interference and the supposedly corrupt and decadent regimes that tolerated it.

Over time, however, the relevance of realist ideas for contemporary security problems became clearer. Societies facing terrorist threats did not respond by calling on international organizations like the UN or on nongovernmental organizations NGOs such as Amnesty International. Instead, they looked to national governments to devise new strategies for dealing with this new threat. Accordingly, prominent realists called for significant adjustments in US foreign policy, both to address the specific dangers posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates and to eliminate some of the grievances that have given rise to such movements Walt It is therefore not surprising that the intellectual connection between realism and security remains strong.

Even though the overall level of global violence — and especially inter state violence — has declined dramatically since the end of the Cold War Gleditsch , states do not appear to take security for granted. Ironically, the levels of violence may even be lower because states are taking security seriously, but in more intelligent and farsighted ways than they did in the past. If so, the contributions of realist theory may deserve at least some of the credit. Scholars continue to debate its historical roots, conceptual foundations, and predictive accuracy, but realist thought continues to provide a powerful way to think about the security problems that all states face and the strategies they employ in the ceaseless quest to overcome them.

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Literary Realism

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