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Still kicking: George Saunders and ‘shadow realism’

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Even as George Saunders jettisons the usual trappings of literary realism, he does so not in order to debunk authorship and authority (cf. Barthes) or to reduce a story to the language of its own telling. Rather, he reasserts the writer’s moral role, and thereby defines a space for the figure of the author. With reference to Lionel Trilling’s defence of Nathaniel Hawthorne and ‘shadow realism’ this article situates Saunders in a literary tradition which challenges reductive conceptions of mimesis. It cites examples from Saunders’ short stories and novellas (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, 1996; Pastoralia, 2000; In Persuasion Nation, 2006), and also addresses an author-sponsored website, with attention to how Internet materials are not only a promotion of Saunders’ work, but also an extension of it. Saunders foregrounds the referential workings of language while remaining attached to a sense that language is a tool for moral questions.

Keywords: Barthes; George Saunders; Trilling; authorship; mimesis; morality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Poitiers

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Short Fiction in Theory and Practice is an interdisciplinary journal celebrating the current resurgence in short-story writing and research. Looking at short fiction from a practice-based perspective, it explores the poetics of short-story writing, adaptation, translation and the place of the short story in global culture.
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