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The Narrative Shape of Truth

Veridiction in Modern European Literature

Ilya Kliger

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256 pages
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2011

Literature and Philosophy

The Narrative Shape of Truth

Veridiction in Modern European Literature

Ilya Kliger

“In this investigation of the ‘veridictory mutation’ in the modern European novel Ilya Kliger positions the genre’s rise amidst a broader shift in European thought (moving from Kant to Hegel) towards a conception of truth as embodied in a mediating and productive temporality. . . . Kliger’s compelling account of truth and narrative in the realist novel offers rich insights into the relationship between modernity’s shifting perceptions of time and truth, and the depictive power of the novel.”

 

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Its champions—and its detractors—have often understood the novel as the genre par excellence of truthlessness. The Narrative Shape of Truth counters this widely accepted view. It argues instead that the novel has found new, historically specific configurations of truth and narrative. The nineteenth-century novel, in particular, can be understood as responding to the emerging tendency to view truth as inseparable from, rather than opposed to, time. Ilya Kliger offers a nonreductive way of reading the histories of philosophy and the novel side by side. He identifies the crucial moment in the epistemological history of narrative when, at the end of the eighteenth century, a new structural affiliation between truth and time emerged.

This book examines novels by four authors—Balzac, Stendhal, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy—as well as the writings of leading European intellectuals and philosophers. Kliger argues that the “realist” novel can be conceived as prompting us (and giving us the means) to think of truth differently, as immanent in a temporal shape rather than transcendent in a principle, a fact, or a higher order.

“In this investigation of the ‘veridictory mutation’ in the modern European novel Ilya Kliger positions the genre’s rise amidst a broader shift in European thought (moving from Kant to Hegel) towards a conception of truth as embodied in a mediating and productive temporality. . . . Kliger’s compelling account of truth and narrative in the realist novel offers rich insights into the relationship between modernity’s shifting perceptions of time and truth, and the depictive power of the novel.”

Ilya Kliger is Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University.

Contents

Acknowledgments

Note on Transliteration

Introduction: The Veridictory Mutation of the Novel

1. Precipitant Knowledge in Balzac

2. The Whole and the Untrue: Stendhal’s Fragile Veridiction

3. Enigma and Emplotment in Dostoevsky

4. Tolstoy’s Plotlines and Truth Shapes

Conclusion: Enduring the Schema in Modernist Time

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Introduction

The Veridictory Mutation of the Novel

Modernity and the Novel

The novel has often been understood, by its champions as well as detractors, as the genre par excellence of truthlessness. However its genealogy is traced—whether it is conceived of as an avatar of the epic, the romance, or the heroic poem; whether it is seen as essentially opposed to tragedy, or history, or the lyric; whether its beginnings are sought after in the Hellenistic world or in early modern Europe—one differential feature consistently emerges as crucial: the novel’s formal and thematic alliance with a certain modernity as the condition from which higher truth has withdrawn. The world of the novel is forsaken by God, it is a world in which chance is given free play, a world in which universals no longer find a home and “general truths only exist post res,” a world of constant flux, in which multiple worldviews and discourses vie for dominance but none ultimately wins, in which the duration of life is victorious over the moment of realization—these are some of the ways in which the fundamental hostility of the novel to truth has been most famously conceived. A hostility that is, to be sure, not merely negative, as if the novel simply lacked at its disposal the means for sustaining universal claims. Rather, the novel is seen as the genre whose very essence is to give voice—with nostalgia or exaltation, defiance or resignation—to a truthless world.

Georg Lukács opposes the novel to the epic, to the world in which meaning is still immanent, in which the very question of truth as the relation between thought and thing has yet to be raised. The epic is the form of the happy age “when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths.” The novel belongs to a world and an age in which the starry sky no longer shows the way, in which the division between the sky and the earth, the word and the thing, the thought and the act is irreparable.

The logic of novelistic polyphony in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the novel posits the genre as the best fit for orchestrating multiple, unfinalizable, discursively embodied worldviews, casting out monologic truth, both in its subjectivist lyric and objectivist epic incarnations. The epic presupposes the totality of life immediately available to man, the coincidence of existence and meaning. The lyric assumes the same coincidence, the same immediacy, but achieved on the basis of a solitary consciousness. Only the novel remains resolutely truthless, a ventriloquist of the many voices that can be heard in the metropolitan, multicultural world for which it serves as the most appropriate symbolic form.

Tragedy, with its insistence on absolutes, its ideological intransigence, its reliance on the pivotal event, is the novel’s antagonist in, for example, Franco Moretti’s essay “The Moment of Truth.” By contrast to tragedy, the novel emerges here as dealing in compromises, half-truths, and elusions, obsessed with ceaseless conversations at the expense of sudden enlightenment, and has endlessly multiplying opportunities at the expense of decisive events. For Moretti too, then, the world of the novel is the world of “life” precisely insofar as “life” is opposed to truth.

Higher meaning, authoritative monologue, the conversionary or revelatory moment—each specifies a distinct veridictory mode, a mode of decisive adequation between human being and world, and each is denied to the novel. Intriguingly, these prominent twentieth-century theories of the novel, in elaborating the genre’s relation to the authoritative discourse of truth, recapitulate the classical taxonomy of genre into which the European novel had so much difficulty fitting during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They seem to accept a number of classical arguments that were again and again adduced against the novel: that it is cumbersome, that it gives free reign to the imagination, that it fails to edify, that, moreover, it corrupts. But in accepting these criticisms, they turn them upside down, arguing or at least implying that, in being messy, the novel gives us an accurate representation of the bewilderment of the modern world; that, in foregrounding fictionality, it reminds us that truth itself is traversed by invention; that a certain moral and ideological relativism, or at least an appreciation for life’s high moral complexity, teaches tolerance and attunement to the voices of those around us.

These arguments sound natural enough today, when, having been elevated by some of its turn-of-the-eighteenth-century theorists to the status of the ultimate genre of modernity, the novel no longer has to prove its worth. But a survey of the rhetoric surrounding one of the novel’s most recent mutations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reveals an intense struggle for legitimacy, a struggle in the course of which practitioners and defenders of the novel repeatedly invoked notions of truth within an unstable intellectual environment permeated by a tension between two veridictory discourses—one residual, the other emerging.

To be sure, a closer look at the period does confirm some of the basic assumptions about the novel’s hostility to higher truth. This is famously the thesis of Ian Watt’s classic account of the rise of the novel in eighteenth-century England. Here the novel’s “formal realism” is praised as allowing for “a more immediate imitation of individual experience set in its temporal and spatial environment than do other literary forms.” Watt links the rise of the novel during that period to the emergence and spread of empiricist philosophy and the corresponding shift of emphasis from timeless universals to particulars localized in space and time. On this account, the novel is truthless in the sense that it is constructed according to a different and emerging conception of truth, one that demands from it high flexibility and developed mimetic capabilities.

Following Watt, Michael McKeon documents the struggle of “true histories” to distance themselves from the kinds of narrative, both religious and secular, that remain faithful to notions of a higher truth. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, argues McKeon in The Origins of the English Novel: 1600–1740, “romance” progressively emerges as a derogatory term, indicating a kind of fantastical narrative that relies on the idealist epistemology of a priori traditions and received authorities. The “idealism” of the romance relies on the guarantees, externally given, of absolute conciliation: adventures inevitably culminate in discovery, the worth and purity of the hero is firmly established, and the belief, sustaining the reader throughout, in the ultimate meaningfulness of what comes to pass is confirmed. The truth of romance is the organizing principle of what is the already redeemed best of all possible worlds. It is the kind of truth that relies on something like the presumption behind the medieval ontological proof for the existence of God: that the makeup of the actual world corresponds to our rational conception of it, that insofar as our ideas about the world are clear, the world meekly conforms to them.

Now this presumption begins to emerge as mere fantasy and wish fulfillment in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. An exemplary encounter in this respect is one, notoriously internalized in Voltaire’s Candide (1759), between a Leibnizian theodicy and the relentlessly lapsarian depiction of the world of human suffering, stupidity, and evil. Here the logic of sufficient reason runs into the obstinacy of hard facts: deception, murder, rape, and natural catastrophe. And not only does Voltaire make a mockery of philosophical optimism, but together with it he mocks the “optimistic” conventions of romance narrative itself. For Leibniz, human history is a romance (roman) “devised in the divine understanding.” Voltaire brings the redemptive conventions of this sort of romance idealism to their breaking point, most vividly in the obsessiveness with which the narrative resurrects characters that were previously supposed to have died a violent death.

But of course it is not contes philosophiques like Candide that come to replace definitively the idealistic optimism of romance. Voltaire’s novel itself still relies too much on romance conventions even as it turns romantic assumptions inside out. Rather, “romance idealism” is succeeded, in McKeon’s account, by the “naïve empiricism” of “true histories,” claiming to provide accurate accounts of what actually happened. Winding, episodic, and “low” in subject matter, these narratives render all preexisting patterns and overarching truths problematic. It is thus—in terms of this struggle waged by new “historical” narratives against the highly conventional lies and fantasies of their suspect forebears—that we might want to understand the claim of the novel’s essential truthlessness in the context of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Here, the novel’s freedom from the weight of truth is its freedom from the weight of the authoritative past. For “historical” is not meant here primarily as involved with times gone by, but rather the opposite: that the past of these histories is so recent that it is still very much part of the present, while the present itself acquires the features of a newfound flow.

The process whereby modernity’s emerging experience of temporal acceleration comes to crystallization is a long one no doubt. We detect its early traces already with Francis Bacon’s celebrated statement in Novum Organum (1620): “For rightly is truth called the daughter of time, not of authority. It is no wonder therefore if those enchantments of antiquity and authority and consent have so bound up men’s powers that they have been made impotent (like persons bewitched) to accompany with the nature of things.” To accompany with—that is, at least here, to be in the company or in the presence of. A century and a half later Goethe complains of the constant need to relearn what he has learned. Unlike their ancestors, he says, who could rely on the lessons they had learned as children, his contemporaries have to “relearn things every five years.” Thus, Bacon’s to accompany with has become simply to accompany: in order to know things, one must stay abreast of them, keep up, as it were, with their movement through time.

Reinhart Koselleck comments: “The shortening of the time spans necessary for gaining new experiences that the technical-industrial world forces upon us can be described as a historical acceleration. It provides evidence of a history in which time continually seems to overtake itself, as it were, and it is thus conceived as Neuzeit in an emphatic sense.” The newness of Neuzeit is perpetual newness, ceaseless novelty at the very foundation of social life. Truths learned in the past turn out to have been neither eternal nor even lasting. They are constantly being surpassed by more recent truths. Past history can thus no longer be conceived as a depository of exemplary wisdom, the familiarity with which might guide us in our actions. Instead, it will be more and more readily conceived—as it is already in Bacon’s statement—as a storehouse of outmoded superstitions, the consultation with which could only lead one deeper into barbaric ignorance.

It is not surprising, then, that there is as much agreement about the novel’s peculiar attunement to time as about its inability (or rather structural unwillingness) to contain higher truth. “The novel is in nothing so characteristic of our culture,” writes Watt, “as in the way that it reflects this characteristic [temporal] orientation of modern thought.” For Watt, the novel’s truthlessness and its ability to represent time are actually related achievements. The novel breaks with the literary tradition of using conventional forms to illustrate timeless moral truths and thus finds itself in the same situation as history, which is also compelled to renounce recourse to the eternal wisdom of the past and to step into the treacherous stream of an unanchored, accelerating present. Eternity and the past, these sites of higher truth, are renounced by the novel in its capacity as the symbolic form of modernity that is the most precise tool for capturing what is essential about modernity: the new experience of time, the experience of time as the compulsive experience of the new.

The Narrative Shape of Truth

It would appear simple enough to say, then, that the novel is the genre of human time and empirical truth precisely insofar as it represents and participates in the condition of being severed from a higher timeless truth of romance idealism. But this would be much too one-sided a formulation if we consider how much of the discussion around the novel in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France and England centered on the capacity of this literary form to provide moral instruction to its readers. Thus, Pierre-Daniel Huet, in his exemplary and influential Traité de l’origine des romans (1670), defines the goal of sentimental prose narratives as follows: “The principal End of Romance, or at least what ought to be so, and is chiefly to be regarded by the Author, is the Instruction of the Reader; before whom he must present Virtue successful and Vice in Disgrace; but because the Mind of Man naturally hates to be inform’d and (by the influence of Self-Conceit) resists Instruction, ’tis to be deceived by the Blandishments of Pleasure; and the Rigor of Precept is to be subdued by the Allurements of Example.” The task of the novel, then, is to promote moral principles through illustration. The novel is here in the service of precisely higher, universal, and presumably timeless moral precepts; it is called upon to illustrate a moral or metaphysical truth that exists prior to and independently of the narrative. Its purpose is to seduce readers into compliance with morality, to make them love the harsh dictates of virtue and hate and fear the enticements of vice. Huet’s translator comments in the preface to his 1715 English translation of the treatise:

Where the mind can’t be subdued into virtue by reason and philosophy, nothing can influence it more than to present to it the success and felicity of which crowns the pursuit of what’s great and honorable. . . . And since in all the ages there were few instances fit to be proposed for exact patterns of imitation, the ingenious fabulist was forced to supply them out of his own invention. Hence it appears that the original of romance is very ancient since this way of promoting virtue has been received in the earliest ages as is evident from the first records of mankind.

The roman is deployed where reason and philosophy fail, where haughty truths must be brought closer, rendered accessible to human beings. And as such it finds very respectable forebears among the ancients themselves, in fables, parables, figures, allegories, in Plato, in the Koran, in the Talmud, and in the teachings of Christ himself. The novel’s pedigree, then, is just as noble as that of the epic, or the lyric, or drama. And this nobility comes from the intimate relation the genre bears to the higher truths of religion and philosophy, to teachings that need to be simplified and made more appealing to the uninitiated public. Far from being truthless, then, far from lacking access to higher and ancient wisdom, the novel actively seeks a truth discourse of its own and finds it repeatedly, both in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, in the logic of exemplarity.

Huet’s basic arguments survive intact into the eighteenth century. Antoine François Prévost, for example, claims in a preface to Manon Lescaut (1731) that his novel is no less than “a moral treatise entertainingly put into practice” for the use of those for whom, as for most people, abstract moral precepts are too vague, too rigorous and must therefore be elaborated and rendered more appealing through narrative example. And almost one hundred years after the publication of Huet’s treatise, Rousseau’s second preface to La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) does not appear to go beyond a more nuanced restatement of this principle: “Sublime Authors, bring your models down a bit, if you want people to try to imitate them. To whom do you vaunt purity that has not been sullied? Well! tell us about purity that can be recovered; perhaps at least someone will be able to get your meaning.” Instances of this defense of the novel appear no less commonly in eighteenth-century England. Perhaps one of the most telling among them is to be found in the dedication to Tom Jones, which states that the purpose of the book is “to recommend goodness and innocence” and adds that “an example is a kind of picture, in which virtue becomes as it were an object of sight, and strikes us with an idea of that loveliness, which Plato asserts there is in her naked charms.” Thus, again and again, the novel invokes the specter of a nobler veridictory ancestor, claiming for itself the high, more than merely narrative calling of rendering truth itself (Biblical, metaphysical, wise) both comprehensible and attractive.

We can say then that the serious novel’s rejection of romance idealism in favor of the empiricist pathos of the actual is complemented, perhaps paradoxically, by a stubborn insistence on its special affinity with the higher truths of morality and religion. The unease with which these tendencies coexisted with each other is perhaps most vividly detectable along the prominent fissure within novelistic discourse between two types of narratives: the picaresque or satirical novel and the philosophical or politico-philosophical tale. In the former we find winding, episodic narratives, treating “low” heroes in “low,” everyday settings; here, the emphasis on concrete situations decisively outweighs interest in society or humanity in general. By contrast, philosophical novels pay little attention to empirical detail, unfold in fantastically exotic settings, involve romancelike idealized characters and a heightened interest in elaborating general moral truths. Yuri Lotman comments on the dualism of the novelistic field as it developed in eighteenth-century Russia: “The rationalist novel had only one ideological-stylistic plane—the world of ideas, since everything real, all everyday reality was considered to be extraliterary material. The picaresque novel also unfolded on a single plane—it cast off the ideological, shutting itself into the sphere of the empirically given.” The temporality of the former is characterized, appropriately enough, by a kind of stillness or timelessness, while the latter tends to fall apart into episodes, loosely connected with one another in serial time.

On Russian soil this narrative dualism is well represented by two contemporary, and highly derivative, works of fiction, Mikhail Kheraskov’s 1768 philosophical Numa Pompilius or the Flourishing Rome and the early picaresque by Mikhail Chulkov, The Comely Cook (1770). The former novel, set in ancient Rome, consists of discourses on the nature of proper political rule, delivered to the celebrated king and lawgiver Numa by his tutor, the nymph Egera. In order to appreciate the extent to which incidents are here secondary and subordinate to instruction, one brief example will suffice. Having listened to a vestal priestess’s heartrending story of injustice and abuse to which she has been subject, Numa and the nymph attempt to lead her out of the dark cave in which she has been condemned to live. At the sight of light, the priestess collapses; Numa and the nymph return her inert body to the cave and leave it there. On the way back to the city, the nymph says: “This encounter has made me extremely pleased . . . ; it will open to us a wide field for useful discussion.” Here, the incident is subsumed by the truth with a casual ruthlessness that testifies to the essential insignificance of individual events and characters in themselves. But this logic finds its mirror image in The Comely Cook, where the narrator’s regular recourse to folk sayings and proverbs as well as her occasional moralizing obviously serve as mere excuse for the breathless report of amusing episodes. Truth, wisdom, goodness are here reduced to the status of legitimizing signposts, anchoring an unruly and salacious narrative by a disreputable tramp.

Less glaringly polarized than these Russian exemplars are their French forebears and inspirations, Fénelon’s Aventures de Télémaque (1699) and Manon Lescault. In the former, episodes, however fabulous, possess a certain independence, are taken more seriously in themselves, even though their ultimate goal is to teach the young prince moral and political lessons. In the latter, weightier and more nuanced (though just as much “for the occasion”) moralizing frequently interrupts the account of Des Grieux’s misadventures in his pursuit of happiness with the fickle Manon. Less lopsided perhaps, but still conforming to the polarity: the merely episodic, truthless time of low (and frequently immoral) everydayness on the one hand, and the high truth of fabulous antiquity/timelessness on the other.

The polarity persisted well into the eighteenth century and was still operative in what is by many accounts the most perfectly plotted novel of its time, Tom Jones (1749). Here again the narrator’s discourse vigilantly shadows the narrated events, constantly intruding with its obsessive “to say the truth,” displaying a profound lack of trust in the ability of the story to generate truth out of itself. A well-founded mistrust, it would seem, given that the story is from the beginning to the end delivered over to error: initiated in misrepresentation, sustained on mistakes and partial recognitions and, with the arrival of truth, the central truth of Tom’s identity, terminated. It is as if truth were to stand outside temporal progression, waiting patiently to show itself and save the day just at the moment when error-ridden time, left to itself, seems destined to carry the hero to scandal and destruction.

And so when the worthy landlady, Mrs. Miller, exclaims that “time will show all matters in their true and natural colors,” the statement does not, within the narrative logic of the novel, function as an indication of the veridictory potential of temporal unfolding itself but points only to the fact that at a certain moment in time, truth will out. One symptom of this separation can be found in the fact that the novel, though its plot is motivated by an error and culminates in discovery, is almost entirely devoid of mystery. Whenever minor revelations and recognitions occur, they surprise but do not work as solutions for persisting puzzles; here, answers are received before questions are even posed. In other words, though truth does occur in time and at the end of time, time itself is not pregnant with truth. And this is the case even with regard to the greatest revelation of all, that of Tom’s birth, which is simply assumed to be “low” until it turns out to be noble.

When the truth does come out, time, the time of the story, cannot be sustained. For a moment Sophia seems intent on postponing her marriage to Tom by a year in order to test his prudence and fidelity. But apparently everything that’s there to know about him is already known, no ordeal can uncover new characteristics or identities, and so the wedding takes place the very next day. Here, truth is static, singular, and indivisible; it cannot be distended in time.

Tzvetan Todorov’s formulation in “The Secret of Narrative” comes to mind as highly apposite: “The presence of truth is possible, but it is incompatible with narrative.” Todorov is speaking of the tales of Henry James, whose veridictory poetics might actually be somewhat more complicated, but as a description of the “eighteenth-century” either-truth-or-time dynamic organizing Fielding’s great novel, this formula is perfectly on target.

Compatibility of truth with narrative aside, one aspect of Fielding’s veridictory poetics that comes out with particular starkness when juxtaposed with that of James pertains to the role of the objective authoritative narrator as a site of truth. Notoriously negligible in James, it is impossible to overlook in Fielding. One particularly striking example should suffice. Opening book six of the novel with some prefatory remarks on love, the author-narrator says: “Examine your heart, my good reader, and resolve whether you do believe these matters with me. If you do, you may now proceed to their exemplification in the following pages; if you do not, you have, I assure you, already read more than you have understood.” The logic here is once again one of exemplarity. The novel illustrates only what is already the case. The narrator possesses the truth, the narrative entertains us only with a compelling “view” of it. If you do not believe the truth already, ahead of time, you will learn nothing in time. If you believe it, you will be glad to find it pleasantly confirmed.

Commenting on the “additive-episodic” temporality of the early British novel, Patricia Tobin suggests that it should be understood as a symptom of incomplete secularization: “When the authorizing center of order is acknowledged as being outside the theory (or above life), then there exists no need at the level of narrative (or of a life) for a strict coherence between the two terminals of beginning and end (birth and death) to establish the proof of that order.” Time, in other words, is not perceived here as possessing within itself the means for its own containment. The access of timeless truth to truthless time is not immanently achieved but granted ahead of time by divine (authorial) decree, which is itself atemporal. The unbound temporality of adventure, one might think, would be unbearable to the “eighteenth-century reader” without prior external guarantees with regard to meaning.

Whether or not this is the proper reading of the intellectual-historical situation of which these narratives were a part, the fact remains that we are confronted by a persistent split, a disjunction between authoritative, coherence-endowing truth and episodic runaway time. But if that is the case, if the dualism in fact describes the state of affairs within the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century practice of prose narrative, then we are justified in questioning the depth of the association between modernity and the rise of the novel at least in one crucial respect. After all, there is nothing particularly modern either about the conception of truth as linked to eternity or about the view of time as too fickle to be trusted with the Idea. Timeless truth and truthless time—the locus classicus of this opposition can be found as far back as Plato, with “secondary” loci reappearing again and again, in new incarnations, from St. Augustine to Descartes and Milton.

If it is in fact possible to assert that the modern novel registers, in its very form, a change in attitude toward the truth, we would have to look for this change elsewhere than in the old disjunction between the timeless rational concept and time, between essence and existence, the ideal and the empirical. I would suggest, albeit at this point only provisionally, that where the problematics of truth are concerned, the modern novel is at its most innovative while trying precisely to get away from these oppositions. When Rousseau appeals to “sublime authors” to depict fallible creatures rather than produce allegories of pure virtue, he is pleading for a synthesis of the high and the low, the abstract and the concrete. When, in polemicizing with Richardson, Fielding proclaims his refusal to serve as time’s amanuensis, preferring to be the kind of historian who hopes to “disclose the revolutions of countries” rather than fill paper “with the detail of months and years in which nothing remarkable happened,” he is striving toward the same synthesis as it were from the other side.

In order to teach good morals one must borrow examples from the life that readers would recognize as their own; in order for events to be made available to the reader’s generalizing faculties as exempla, they must be lifted out of their simple givenness, carefully selected, and coherently organized. When the rational strives to subsume the empirical, when the empirical seeks for itself a general principle, then we are no longer in the realm of romance idealism. And when the romantic principle of virtue rewarded and vice punished is drawn into the realm of the everyday, it becomes vulnerable to refutation or dismissal. In short, the synthetic exigency is prominent in both of these statements: in Rousseau’s denial of the educational potential of idealized representations of virtue as well as in Fielding’s reference to Plato, who can “assert” the beauty of virtue but who cannot be counted on to make it “an object of sight.”

The suggestion here then is that, pace many of its most prominent theorists, the modern novel should be understood not so much as reflecting the rift between truth and time, the essential and the actual, but rather as exploring the narrative mechanisms that might be called upon to repair the rift. Rather than deprived of a genuine truth discourse as a consequence of the flagging of “romance idealism,” the novel should be regarded as developing a sui generis veridiction, one that can no longer rely on ontological optimism or epistemological trust but must develop an authority of its own, distinct from those of the epic, or tragedy, or romance, but no less authoritative for that. And as a methodological corollary of this approach, the novel would have to be conceived dynamically, as a (frequently compensatory) response to—rather than a mere reflection of—the experience of accelerated time in modernity.

Paradoxically, it is precisely when regarded as such a response that the novel turns out to be properly “reflective” of the Janus-faced nature of modern temporality itself. It is to this dual dynamic of modern time that Jürgen Habermas calls our attention, for example, when he characterizes Koselleck’s vision of Neuzeit’s furious forward thrust as somewhat one-sided. Koselleck’s conception of modernity, writes Habermas, “overlooks the fact that the notion of progress served not only to render eschatological hopes profane and open up the horizon of expectation in a utopian fashion, but also to close off the future as a source of disruption with the aid of teleological constructions of history.” The open future of modernity, the unchaining of time from the eternalistically conceived past of authority is never absolute. But if through much of the eighteenth century it is primarily complemented by eternal, divinely or naturally guaranteed, and a priori knowable principles, then toward the end of the century, time, and historical time in particular, is seen more and more as capable of producing order from within itself.

The production of order from within the historical sequence itself is exactly what is at stake in two contrasting invocations of the generic category of the roman (romance or novel, perhaps ambiguously) in relation to the study of history: one at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, the other at the end. We have already seen the first, from Leibniz’s Theodicy, where human history appears as a romance penned by God. More than seventy years later, in 1784, Immanuel Kant uses the same analogy in his “Idea for a Universal History,” but now with a different inflection. “It is strange and apparently silly,” he says, “to wish to write a history in accordance with an Idea of how the course of the world must be if it is to lead to certain rational ends. It seems that with such an Idea only a romance [Roman] could be written.” What is crucial not to overlook here is Kant’s specific use of Idee to imply the merely provisional, regulative status of history as a coherent whole. The romancelike coherence cannot be presupposed a priori, nor is it ever given in experience, but it can regulate our attempts to organize facts and events in such a way as to avoid perceiving history as no more than a “planless conglomeration of human actions.” Kant’s position here is therefore ambiguous. He is first of all suspicious of those who, like his former student Johann Gottfried Herder, are willing to reinvest historical progression a priori with the patterned quality of romance. But at the same time, he is compelled to admit that he, too, is sympathetic to the project. In a review of Herder’s Ideas for a Philosophy of History of Mankind (1784) published in the same year as his own “Idea for a Universal History,” Kant expresses this ambivalence as follows: “To be sure, this attempt [to grasp human history as a totality of interconnected elements] is bold but still natural to the scientific bent of our reason, and it should not pass uncommended. . . . All the more is it to be wished, therefore, that our gifted author in continuing his work, where there is solid ground before him, should constrain his lively genius.”

A certain conception of time underlies the attempt to project order decisively onto historical succession. Hayden White comments: “The spectacle of coming into being and passing away which the historical record displays to consciousness was no occasion for despair to Herder. Time did not threaten him, because he did not take time seriously. Things pass away when their time has come, not when Time requires it of them.” Perhaps it is overstating things somewhat to say that Herder does not take time seriously. Time is after all the essential medium of historical existence; it is just that in the organic metaphor, he finds the means for taming time, for making it yield significance from within. Time is no longer indifferent to being and hostile to form; rather it is the very condition of the form’s ability to accommodate content. Time, in other words, is the medium of formation rather than decomposition.

Thus, the two invocations of romance in relation to history, Leibniz’s and Kant’s, mark a veritably epochal distance. History as God’s romance in Leibniz is, at least in terms of the categories of truth and time, a premodern image, figuring the weighty omnipresence of providential design in human life and in the life of humanity, so that the progress of time is always already bound by the romancelike formula of fall and redemption, of evil bringing forth the good. Time in this conception is altogether eliminated, as is its Enlightenment companion, causality: “For, not to mention the fact that one cannot explain how something can pass from one thing into the substance of another, we have already shown that from the notion of each and every thing follows all of its future states. What we call causes are only concurrent requisites, in metaphysical rigor.” In fact, everything is there to begin with—this is what romance means for Leibniz. When, at the end of the century, history and romance come together once again, it is, as it were, from the other side. Now the dominant category is history, and the patterns of romance must be cautiously and with qualifications derived or, more often, imaginatively intuited from historical data. The eternal patterns of higher truth do not preexist and do not transcend temporal unfolding; rather it is this unfolding itself that generates and is shaped by patterns of its own. In the words of Michel Foucault, order mutates into history, and rather than being satisfied with the Enlightenment restatement of the ancient disjunction between truth and time we are confronted with the truly new task of thinking truth and time together.

In what now follows I propose to take a brief look at a number of texts rich in implications for this very task. Both philosophical and novelistic, or novel-theoretical, they will, at least in my presentation here, come together to articulate a formal shift in the veridictory discourse of modernity, a shift that brings philosophical and narrative endeavors perhaps closer together than ever before. Clustering around what I will refer to as the Kantian crisis of truth (not because he brings it about but because he gives it the most vivid and nuanced expression), these texts register its aftershocks in a new kind of narrative theory and practice. They thus help us map out the conceptual field for the rest of our inquiry into the fortunes of veridiction in the nineteenth-century realist novel and beyond. They should also confirm us in the conviction that it is ultimately misleading to think of the novel as simply truthless, that we should think of it instead as prompting us, and giving us the means, to think of truth differently, as immanent in a temporal shape rather than transcendent in a principle, a fact, or a higher order.

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