Why Do We Still Want to Believe? the Case of Annie Proulx

By Scanlon, Julie | Journal of Narrative Theory, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Do We Still Want to Believe? the Case of Annie Proulx


Scanlon, Julie, Journal of Narrative Theory


Reading for Realism 1: An Act of Faith

"I Want to Believe" declares the slogan beneath a UFO on the poster behind Fox Mulder's desk in the television series, The X-Files. This expression of the character's desire for faith in an alien world beyond our own underlines his mission throughout the series to find evidence that "the truth is out there," the show's motto. It is Mulder's desire ("I want to believe"), stopping short of belief even, that sustains him on his quest for truth. I begin with this example as a conceit for seeking realism in the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. For the persistence of the desire for "the truth" in the face of obstacles to it shadows the no less incongruous desire for realist fictions in our contemporary theoretical climate.

In his chapter "The Path to Postmodernism," in After Theory, Terry Eagleton expresses the conundrum of the endurance of realism with characteristic humor:

Modernism, like the culture of the 1960s and 70s, could take it for granted that when it came to the cultural establishment, realism was still dominant. Indeed, it has proved perhaps the most resilient cultural form in Western history, beating off all contenders. And this suggests that it has at least some of its roots deep in the Western psyche. What was valuable was the kind of art which mirrored a world in which you could recognize yourself. Quite why this is thought valuable is extremely hard to say. The answer probably has more to do with magic than aesthetics. It is not easy to say why we take such an infantile pleasure in gazing at an image of a banana which looks for all the world like a banana. (66-67)

The aspect of realism that depends upon mimesis, put simply for the moment as the representation of the real (bananas or otherwise), would appear thwarted by poststructuralist revelations that what was previously thought of as truth is more accurately a narrative of truths in the plural (this is one perspective of one banana, for example). Concomitant with the pluralization and narrativization trajectories in theory, those worlds/ truths/reals acquire the necessity to be flagged within cautionary quotation marks, indicating their partiality in terms of political and ideological perspectives, perspectives with a power to shape material conditions. One of the reverberating lessons of poststructuralist approaches, if we concur with them, is that we may well create those worlds that we once apparently thought we were representing. Such questionings of certainties provide major stumbling blocks for realist fiction. As Mark Currie has put it in relation to postmodernist fiction, for contemporary authors there have been developments in the "theory of language and literature which make it more difficult to write a novel that does not reflect on its own role in the construction of reality" (54). This point might be extended to include the self-consciousness of readers as well as writers, as it can be argued that, for a theoretically-aware reader, it is difficult to read a novel without an awareness of one's role in the formation of discursive practices through the enactment of reading. For instance, reading a contemporary realist novel requires a simultaneous recognition of the supposed futility of its propositions alongside a suspension of this awareness in order to continue to "want" to read. This article will demonstrate that such reading is a performance which constitutes not so much a suspension of disbelief, but a (willful) entry into belief. Why we are not content with postmodernist narratives remains something of an "x-file" itself.

Paradoxes, then, envelop contemporary academic readers' desire for, and even, dare I say it, enjoyment of, escape through realist linear stories that depict worlds which are self-contained, those stories that allow one to lose oneself in the pleasure of being elsewhere in an old-fashioned, uncritical, untrendy, naïve, and even embarrassing way. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Why Do We Still Want to Believe? the Case of Annie Proulx
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.