Tragic Realism and the Political Novel

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Sociology book series (ESIS)


Tragic realism is a literary affront to the rational solution of human problems. As a result, it is more subversive than ever before; but equally it is rarer. In liberal-capitalist countries the ideological techniques of moderation and consensus are used to patch over class differences and inequalities. In state-socialist countries the rational solution of human problems is the prerogative of dictatorial bureaucracies. The culture of rationality atrophies tragic fiction. More recently, it has discouraged a serious literary concern with politics. For the educated rationalist the political novel in particular must seem archaic unless it is a confirmation of his own prejudices. A variety of forms of communication have passed it by, more vital, more immediate and more relevant to the outcome of political issues—at least in appearance. In the West, the political novel can no longer compete with the investigative journalism of the media. In the East, it cannot usually be published, unless it ultimately reflects the superior wisdom of the Communist Party. Tragic realism in the political novel is the greatest cultural embarrassment of all. It portrays loss and tragedy at the political epicentre of modern rationality, that arena of human endeavour where the myth of total control over the environment is fabricated. The modern intelligentsia, whether liberal or Marxist, has increasingly adhered to one version or other of this myth. As a result it has ignored the


Rational Solution Figural Realism Authentic Voice Modern Rationality Realist Fiction 
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  1. 5.
    Frank Kermode, The Sense of the Ending (New York 1967)Google Scholar
  2. Alan Friedman, The Turn of the Novel (New York 1967).Google Scholar

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© John Orr 1977

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  • John Orr

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