Skip to main content

CMC member Professor David James has published 'In Defense of Lyrical Realism', a research article which appears alongside contributions from Elizabeth Anker, Jonathan Culler, Ian Balfour, and Robert Caserio, among others, in a special issue of the journal Diacritics devoted to the topic of 'The Novel and the Lyric'.

David's article considers the critical stakes of contemporary fiction's mobilization of lyric strategies by reassessing Zadie Smith's much-discussed essay on the complacencies and duplicities of 'lyrical realism'.

Playing devil's advocate with Smith's largely derogatory use of that term, the essay turns to the recent work of Joseph O'Neill and David Grossman in order to offer a more multi-layered account of lyrical realism as a mode that stages contemporary fiction's negotiation between particularism and social commentary, between affective interiority and the possibility of political engagement. Far from being a comforting, superficially placating style that distracts readers from material contradictions, O'Neill and Grossman in their different contexts show how lyrical realism offers a testing ground for fiction's ability to reflect, at the level of aesthetic form, on the nature and viability of its own critical mission. The poignant experiences their novels so lyrically convey don't simply service their plots, but also activate our participation as readers in what Jonathan Culler calls, in Theory of the Lyric, 'the lyric's varied imagining of the world … with all the elegance it can muster'—even if they also confirm that elegance alone is hardly enough to compensate the personal and social privations they bring so arrestingly to light. The article can be accessed via (subscription required).